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Archive, October 2014. Switch to list view

    Posted by on in Development, Software and Tools

     Every now and again the digital design engineer has to completely leave his (or her) comfort zone and enter the occult of analog design engineers. It is in this world that digital design engineers, used to making yes or no binary decisions, are presented with a multiple of answers all of which, or none, may be correct.  It is in this blurry and murky world that any type of help, to corroborate a design, is most welcome. 

    As part of designing a servo controller board for the 17 DOF Robot (Using FPGAs) Project I had to enter such a world. However, rather than approach the design with Wigi (Ouija) board to hand, to confirm my results, I  simulated the circuit design using the electronic equivalent or a Software Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis, otherwise known as SPICE. The installation of LTspice IV on Mac OS X (Yosemite 10.10) is the subject of this blog post. 

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    Posted by on in Robotics Using FPGAs

    I have found it difficult completing this blog post this week, let alone doing any programming, as I have just discovered the series "Breaking Bad" on Netflix. Now, what I like about this show is how intelligently the show has been thought out, typical of what any engineering design project should be really. The plot, the cast, the characters have not just been cobbled together, but have been interwoven into an intricate and delicate interlinking pattern of intrigue and suspense that has led to the show's success. "Who would have imagined you breaking bad?"

    The design of our 17 DOF robot, like system design in general, should not be anything different. It should consist of well thought out building blocks, which will include mechanical design, digital hardware design and software programming, amongst many other scientific disciplines including physics and electrical engineering. Also, if we do not want our robot to harm anybody we may need to include the discipline of philosophy and maybe incorporate Asimov's laws of robotics too! For now, in this blog post, we will concentrate on the design of a printed circuit board to mainly control the robot's servos.

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    Posted by on in First Impressions

    When is a Complex Logic Programmable Device (CLPD) not a CPLD? When it is being presented as an entry-level FPGA. The arrival of the Max 10 in the FPGA arena is an interesting one and could be the final confluence of Altera's CPLDs with their FPGAs. A historic matter that irked their main rival for many years.

    Have Altera finally reached the decision that the traditional CPLD has no place in the modern programmable logic world? Or have they simply added some macro and analog components to TSMC’s 55 nm embedded NOR flash technology to create an FPGA with instant-on functionality? Well, Arrow have released the Max 10 FPGA Evaluation Kit for you to decide for yourself, as we do in this blog post.

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    Posted by on in Robotics Using FPGAs

    Up till now we have merrily plodded along in the construction and assembly of the 17 DOF robotics kit. However, as we all know projects very rarely have unlimited resources and budgets, unless of course they are being conducted by a superpower trying to prove a point. We are not a FPGA superpower, neither are we trying to prove a point and more importantly our pockets are shallow.

    Hence, just like in any discipline, we need a plan even if it is only a half-baked one to maintain focus, mitigate risk and prevent costs from spiralling out of control. So the focus of this blog post is to develop the skeleton of a project plan, which will be fleshed out as we progress in the series. We do things this way, as unfortunately, we do not have the resource to preplan the project in-depth before hand, which is typical of home-brew projects.

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    Posted by on in Development, Software and Tools

    KiCad is an open source software suite for Electronic Design Automation (EDA) that facilitates the creation of professional schematics and Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) of up to 32 copper layers. It runs on Windows, Linux and Apple's OS X. One of the things we like about KiCad, apart from it being endorsed by CERN, is this multi-platform support. We also like the fact that it is released under the open-source GNU GPL v2 free of charge.

    However, free does not mean free of functionality, on the contrary. This is a fully-fledged, feature rich EDA tool, that we will be using from now on to design our PCBs. Also, because the software is available to our readers too, our design files should be freely available once we switch over to Git Hub. Installing KiCad on a Macbook Air with Mavericks 10.9.5 is the topic of this blog post. 

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    Posted by on in First Impressions

    If you are looking for a FPGA development board that looks cheap, feels cheap and is cheap, then you need look no further. For, while it can be said that looks could be deceiving, in this case they are not. This board is extremely cheap and looks it. In fact it seems that to reduce cost  and save on drill bits the board has not been provided with any mounting holes!

    However, beggars can't be choosers and if you are in the market for a cheap development  board to quickly prototype a design using Altera's Cyclone V FPGA on a limited budget, like us, then this board could be for you. This blog post provides a quick fire review of the board, which is available standalone or as a kit in the form of the BeScope Bundle.

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    Posted by on in Development, Software and Tools

     As the title of this blog suggests this post is about installing and building an application using XCode on a Mac OS X system in general and on a Mac OS X with Mavericks 10.9.5 installed in particular. The purpose of the installation is to use it to program an OpenGL example from the legendary OpenGL red book.

    However, while installing Xcode is straightforward understanding the mechanisms required to run an OpenGL example are not. For example, should one install MacPorts, XQuartz, both or neither to run X11 applications? Should Glut or FreeGlut be installed? The decisions I made to compile and run a basic OpenGL tutorial are the subject of this blog post.

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    Posted by on in First Impressions

    The Rigol DS1074Z 4-channel oscilloscope has become popular in hobbyist circles for a variety of reasons, good and better. Firstly, and probably most importantly, because of the price bracket Rigol have managed to fit this oscilloscope into. Secondly, because  hobbyists being hobbyist have discovered a flaw in the Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) algorithm used to encode the scope's optional functionality. This has allowed them to add hundreds of pounds of additional functionality to the basic version of the scope for nothing.

     However, before I discuss what hobbyist should not do to enable the additional functionality, let's see what the basic oscilloscope has to offer.

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