A new palette

Sometimes events and energy come together creating perfect storms, the passing of these cyclones freshens the canvas on which we can paint, the looms on which we weave and the palettes from which we draw our inspiration.

The core technology in this perfect storm I am referring to is not new, Hardware Description Languages (HDL) have been with use for many decades, as have the FPGA chips on which one carves out our designs using these tools. The current crop of these proprietary FGPA chips, languages and tools however, have not been anywhere close to accessible as opensource based micro-controllers and their opensource C toolchains  over the last few decades. The combination of the latter is epitomised by the Arduino movement making the micro-controller accessible in ways that proprietary vendors could never have imagined. The combination of GCC, AVRDude  and low cost AVR dev boards like Arduino brought the whole toolbox together creating a popular opensource platform and community we have all become familiar with. I believe that a key HDL tool chain and low cost hardware targets are coalescing right now within the opensource HDL/FPGA community, based around IceStorm;  Yosys, Arachne-pnr and low cost Lattice ICE40 chips representing perhaps watershed moment for opensource hardware. The similarity of the two movements has not been lost on the opensource hardware community and we are already seeing development boards and kits emerging based around the lattice ICE40 hardware running with IceStorm opensource Verilog tool chain. This new software and hardware alchemy offers us an exciting new palette with which to paint, entirely new landscapes with fresh new choices for opensource hardware delivery.

It really is an exciting time and a gear change for opensource hardware, entirely new capabilities are now available to us in the community and for me personally it is perfect  timing. As a result of this I had been working on a development board for my own personal use, conveniently after my FPGA Talk at OSHUG I got together with my good friend Ken Boak and we decided to scratch both of our itches with a joint FPGA development board design nick named ‘MyStorm’. We are working to get the first boards out in time for  the FPGA workshop at OSHCAMP 2016, part of the Wuthering Bytes festival at Hebden Bridge in September.

Today I can offer a sneak peak of MyStorm having just finished routing the board which has been tricky given the heavy cost constraints we are placing on it’s design in order to keep it accessible.

mystorm

This week after a few more checks we will be ordering prototype PCBs ready for the first test build, at the same time we will work on opening access to the repository (after a bit of clean up..) for your full perusal, we look forward to any constructive feedback over the next couple of months. This is just the first of many FPGA oriented developments there is lots more to come..

Already many folks are building on top of IceStorm’s opensource foundations and will expand the tool set further and wider, we will see more dev boards , more chips supported and greater applications coming from diverse sections of our opensource communities, I would like to personally thank Clifford Wolf  for his breakthrough work on IceStorm ,without which, this would not have been possible, thank you…

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