Electronic systems continue to get more complex—making the job of developers more difficult—but new development kits and software can help. At one end of the spectrum is the tiny, $5 Raspberry Pi Zero while at the other end are platforms like Renesas' R-Car (Fig. 1) and Digilent’s NetFPGA SUME (Fig. 2). These two highlight why the price and size of a development platform are not always small.
The R-Car series system-on-chip (SoC) incorporates the IMP image recognition hardware core designed to offload the multiple Cortex-A15 cores. The R-Car can address a range of automotive applications from Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADASs) to knitting together streams from four cameras to provide the user with a 360-deg. view of the surrounding area.
The R-Car platform obviously targets automotive and transportation solutions where OEMs have a substantial software and manpower investment. There are other application areas such as robotics that can take advantage of the hardware as well. This is where the latest dev kits from Renesas come into play, allowing other developers to get their hands on the hardware and software. Renesas is providing open-source image manipulation and recognition software that take advantage of the hardware.
Digilent’s NetFPGA SUME is the top-end board in the NetFPGA family that is an open-source hardware and software platform that is supported by a number of vendors and educational institutions like Stanford University and the University of Cambridge. The SUME is built around Xilinx’s Virtex 7 FPGA. It also has four SFP+ interfaces that can handle 10 Gbit/s transceivers along with a VITA-57 HPC FMC connector with 10 RocketIO transceivers and a QTH connector. The board can plug into a PCI Express Gen 3 x8 connector or be used in a standalone configuration using external power. There are 8 Gbytes of DDR 3 memory on a pair of SODIMMs.
The NetFPGA SUME is supported by a large collection of free IP blocks on the NetFPGA.org site. The one catch is the 10 Gbit/s IP that comes from Xilinx. Xilinx’s Vivado FPGA design suite is the underlying development tool. The 100 Gbit/s platform can be used to experiment with new interconnect and high-bandwidth switching applications. For example, three boards could be connected together to provide a 300 Gbit/s non-blocking switch with three 100 Gbit/s bidirectional links.
The Renesas R-Car platform starts at $350 while the educational version of NetFPGA SUME is $4,995. These are not inexpensive, but they are actually a bargain considering the support they deliver.
Of course, developers on the cutting edge will turn to chip vendors and their partners to gain access to the latest technology like Xilinx’s 16-nm UltraScale+ FPGAs that incorporate features like UltraRAM that bring large amounts of storage onto the chip.