Know what a FPGA is?

Know what a FPGA is?


Snickerdoodle is a $55 ARM-based development board that launched as a competitor to the popular $35 Raspberry Pi. Snickerdoodle is currently incrowdfunding mode, with a projected product release date of March 2016 if the group reaches its funding goal. I spoke with Ryan Cousins, who is the co-founder and CEO of krtkl, Inc., the company attempting to manufacture the Snickerdoodle. He told me that the initial idea was to create a product for high-end industrial robotics projects. However, he and his team realized there might be interest in the board from makers and other hobbyists.

The main difference between the Snickerdoodle and other single-board systems like the popular Arduino and Raspberry Pi products is the inclusion of a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). An FPGA is essentially a semiconductor that can be modified using configurable logic blocks. In other words, the FPGA is an extension of the microprocessor, and its hardware function can be modified after assembly in the field. This is a huge advantage when deploying complex systems that may need changes after deployment.

Another difference: Instead of being able to control a handful of input-output (I/O) devices, Snickerdoodle has many dozens (well over 100) of re-configurable I/O paths. That leads to more power than you’d get with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino; for example, Mr. Cousins noted that a Snickerdoodle can handle multiple high-definition camera video streams with data pre-processed using the FPGA.

The Snickerdoodle also packs a lot of hardware features that are add-on purchases for base Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards. The $55 base system includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Free iOS and Android apps can pair with a Snickerdoodle using Bluetooth LE (Low Energy). As a result, software projects can be stored in the cloud or on a phone which can then install the project to the Snickerdoodle over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Other baseboards are also planned for the unit. Examples include a hackable Gigabit Ethernet router and an Arduino emulator that lets you use Arduino Shields (add-on boards that can be plugged into an Arduino to provide additional hardware features). To program the Snickerdoodle, you can use C/C++, Python, and Wiring — a fork of the programming language often used when working on an Arduino — among other languages. You use Xilinx Vivado (from the company that invented the FPGA) to work with the FPGA itself.

The Arduino and Raspberry Pi will likely remain the platforms of choice for many hobbyists interested in developing small hardware projects. But, if you have a complex project that needs a lot of I/O and heavy-duty processing, the Snickerdoodle may be something for you to take a look at, should it reach its funding goal and begin production next year.

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