Chitlesh Goorah (Free Electronic Lab)
Chitlesh Goorah holds a Master degree in Micro-Nano Electronics engineering. He then specialized in digital design at ON Semiconductor in Belgium. He explores different opensource methodologies which can benefit the EDA industry. Ultimately, he founded Fedora Electronic Lab, an opensource design … More »
Milkymist: pushing further the limits of electronics openness
November 7th, 2010 by Chitlesh Goorah (Free Electronic Lab)
Everyone has heard of open source software, but can the same principles be applied to hardware?
Some people argue that hardware is so expensive to manufacture and modify that it prevents hobbyists from contributing, and thus stifles the development of an open source hardware community.
This isn’t entirely true. In fact, the huge popularity of community-developed microcontroller platforms (Arduino and its huge collection of add-on modules being the most famous examples) tends to show the opposite. Other examples include the USRP software-defined radio platform, Texas Instrument’s Beagleboard single board computer, or the Openmoko mobile phone (though the latter has enjoyed limited success).
But while those projects feature open and public hardware specifications, ”traditional” schematics, printed circuit boards and mechanical designs, the whole semiconductor design and manufacturing process remains a poorly covered area. There are a few pioneers like GRLIB (LEON3), OpenSPARC and OpenRISC. But all suffer from excessive complexity, slowness and large hardware resource usage – if not outright poor or unfinished design. These factors make them difficult to access and stifle their wide adoption, with a need for oversized FPGAs, modern semiconductor processes and advanced logic synthesis tools – all being very expensive.
The Milkymist project thus develops a high performance system-on-chip (SoC) design with the economy of resources and of complexity in mind. It is targetted at the demanding application of real time video effect rendering for embedded systems, and wants to prove that open hardware logic designs can compete in terms of performance.
The Milkymist SoC is based on Lattice’s Mico32 CPU core, and features a host of custom-developed peripherals, like a DDR SDRAM controller, various I/O interfaces and graphics acceleration.
But Milkymist’s founder, Sébastien Bourdeauducq, said that they are not stopping there. They are developing a complete open hardware product out of this system-on-chip, which includes software, schematics, PCB, and enclosure. The end product will be an “interactive VJ station”, a device meant to be used during concerts and artistic events to generate real time video effects and make them interactive thanks to the many built-in interfaces (MIDI, DMX, video input, Ethernet, OSC, USB, GPIO).
To foster development on this open hardware platform, Free Electronic Lab (formerly known as Fedora Electronic Lab) and Milkymist are collaborating to provide the smoothest and easiest to setup programming environment as possible.
At this time, the full system-on-chip design is complete (the current focus is on improving its documentation and fixing any bug that can be found) and the second batch of PCBs (hopefully based on the final design) is on its way to the fab. If everything goes well, some development kits will be available for sale at the end of December.
For more information, visit www.milkymist.org.
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