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Rise of Mobile FPGAs in Maker Communities

Rise of Mobile FPGAs in Maker Communities
Posted 11/29/2016 by Abdullah Raouf

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Many of today’s most extraordinary inventions have been developed by independent makers, inventors, designers and tinkerers, who used collaborative tools and knowledge to create exciting, new products.

A few examples include:

  1. Alex Hunt, a lawyer by day and engineer by night from Cambridge, England, who developed a wireless vibrating wristband that helps notify people with hearing impairment of incoming telephone calls, doorbells and other sound alerts.*
  2. ALS patient, Patrick Joyce, and his winning Hackaday team created an eye-controlled wheelchair system that offers life-changing mobility and independence for those unable to use their hands.*
  3. New Zealand student, Jared Sanson, created an open source smart watch, which can be built with readily available components (eg. from element14, digikey, etc.), and able to be fused by hand, with a spare OLED display lying around.*

Long considered a tool for the technical elite, the powerful field programmable gate array (FPGA) is regularly written off as being too complicated to use for personal projects, such as the three listed above. However, thanks to a new class of “Pro Makers” within the popular Maker community and the growing resources dedicated for FPGA designs, we’re witnessing new, unique applications hitting the market. From mechanized devices (robots) to some of the world’s most popular mobile devices (drones and virtual reality head mounted displays) more and more solutions implement FPGAs for their small form factor and flexible programmability ability.

For over 30 years, Lattice has been accelerating innovation through our programmable product offerings, allowing “back of the envelope” ideas to quickly become reality. Mobile FPGAs have solved technology challenges for a variety of audio enhancement techniques, such as noise filtering, echo cancelation, beamforming technology, equalization and phrase detection. These solutions are enabled by our mobile-friendly programmable products such as the iCE40, MachXO2 and CrossLink families, which are ideal for solving a variety of connectivity challenges for leading global mobile brands.

In an effort to spread the word about the benefits of mobile FPGAs within the Maker community we announced our Lattice Hackathon: Small FPGAs. Big Possibilities Contest this past September and challenged independent makers, inventors, students, etc., to solve real-world problems using our mobile FPGAs. After many submissions, we were able to identify our Top Five finalists, who will be continuing to compete for a chance to win a trip to CES 2017 in Las Vegas and $5,000 USD.

These finalists have all been given evaluation boards, programming tools, reference code and dedicated support to bring their idea from concept to reality by Dec. 16, 2016. The winners will be announced in December, including the Grand Prize winner whose project will be featured in our booth at CES 2017.

Expanding outside the major OEM, we are beyond excited to inspire these creative minds and help them bring their projects to life. To stay up to date on future contests and other announcements, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

*Projects are current or past entries in the Hackaday Prize contest.

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