It is not a secret that I became not only a believer, but a serious advocate of the maker’s movement that has taken the world by storm in the last few years. Now that hardware has definitely met software as part of this movement, I can truly see a transformation coming in the way technology will affect the world in the coming years. The Engineer in me can’t seem to get over the fact that more and more can be done with less and less. I am in a state of growing awe about the human creativity that seems to be truly infinite; now that we have been more and more able to see and touch what is in other people’s minds through the technological advances of the last few years. The humanitarian in me grows every day more excited about social problems that can be solved now for cheaper and cheaper, as well as a dream of mine to see the base of the economical pyramid changing their lives through access to technology.
Today I got my Papilio board; another son of the maker’s movement. For the ones of you who don’t know what the Papilio board is; in a nutshell, it is an inexpensive, very inexpensive, hardware platform based off of the Xilinx Zynq SOC (System on Chip) silicon. The Zynq is a combo chip containing an ARM processor and a FPGA silicon, combined into a single package. To top all of that off, the Papilio folks made the board to be pin compatible with Arduino shields, so the user can take advantage of the ever growing Arduino shield community. And, one can actually run existing Arduino sketches on it, by selecting between two Arduino compatible soft processors that ship with the board. The Papilio board seems to be focusing on education of FPGA programming, as one can use the Xilinx ISE Webpack, which is made available for free by Xilinx, to actually program and synthesize VHDL program to the board. One can get her hands on a Papilio board for less than $50.
This board seems to be the precursor (or one of them) of what I am hoping to be another wave of the maker’s movement; one that focus on FPGA targets. As many of you probably know, I was involved in the creation of a LabVIEW compiler for Arduino, one that allows LabVIEW code to be deployed to and to run embedded in any Arduino compatible target. The compiler is on track to be released in February/March time frame. Obviously, I will be testing the compiler on the Papilio’s soft Arduino targets and am hoping it will work right off the box. I will provide an update on that experiment in future posts.
However, this makes me dream about future work that can be done with the LabVIEW for Arduino compiler. Since one can use the Xilinx free tools to program the Papilio target, much like one can use the Arduino IDE to program and download code to Arduino boards, the first thought that jumped to my mind was: Hey, maybe we can expand the LabVIEW compiler for Arduino product into one that allows LabVIEW code to be downloaded to and to run on FPGA targets that can be programmed with the free Xilinx tools! This is a little more than just a dream of mine at the moment. I say a little more as, I believe it to be theoretically possible, based on the work we did on the Arduino compiler for LabVIEW.
If we allow ourselves to dream for a moment, imagine a world where one could use LabVIEW to program Arduinos and inexpensive FPGA targets! What sort of problems the test and measurements community could solve for very cheap with such combo! Moreover, imagine the number of underprivileged kids who could learn test and measurements by having available very inexpensive tools. Again, this is nothing but my Jules Verne moment for now. But then again, weren’t dreams the precursors to several technological marvels that became an integral part of our daily lives years later?