iCEBreaker FPGA

The first open source iCE40 FPGA development board designed for teachers and students

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Jun 03, 2019

Project update 9 of 14

Finished Early-bird Shipping and Other News

by Piotr Esden-Tempski

Hi Everyone!

We have great news! Today we shipped the last of the Early Bird tier rewards! If you ordered only Early Bird items you either got your rewards already or you should be getting a shipping notification very soon.

It took some time to assemble all of the necessary iCEBreakers and different Pmods, test everything, count out all the small parts and bag them and then to carefully pack each person’s pledge. We also had to figure out how to ship all the rewards that contain LED Panels, as they are larger than the hardware we normally ship out.

In the end we decided that the best solution was to get boxes and ship the rewards that way. Shipping the items in boxes ended up being more expensive but we decided it was more important that you get your rewards in good condition. We tried our best to pack everything well.

Since our last major update Piotr went to KiCon and LatchUp.

KiCon happened in Chicago and was the first KiCad PCB design software focused conference. It was a lot of fun, full of very interesting talks and people. Most of the talks are now published for your viewing pleasure the most exciting news from the conference was that the project maintainer Wayne Sambaugh will now be hired on to work full time on the project. This is a very big step and shows how KiCad is maturing as a project. We are looking forward to the results!

Piotr also made a presentation talking about his process and how he is using KiCad to create hardware. His talk was recorded and can also be found on the Contextual Electronics YouTube channel.

LatchUp conference in Portland was just one week after KiCon. LatchUp is a US sister conference to European OrConf that is organized by the FOSSi Foundation. This conference focuses on open source digital design, which means open source IP for custom silicon chips as well as FPGA. It was full of interesting talks that you can watch now too.

Piotr made a presentation making a case for Open Source FPGA toolchains. You can find the recording of it on the FossiFoundation YouTube Channel.

Since then Piotr was busy assembling and testing all of the remaining Early Bird hardware. We are so happy to have all of the Early Bird hardware completed, tested and finally shipped!

Next steps will be beginning production of the main assembly run. We’ve already received the 7 segment LED displays and dip switch Pmods fully assembled. We decided to order them pre-assembled as they require a lot of through hole soldering. And the quantity was more than we wanted to do by hand. We do not have a wave or selective soldering machine to speed up the process.

As you might remember it took a bit longer than expected to finalize the pricing and ordering of the main production run parts. We were only able to place the order for some of the parts by early April. Ordering parts in bulk to get good pricing means ordering directly from the chip manufacturer. The chip manufacturers always have quite long lead times. As far as we know the last few parts we need will arrive by the end of June and only then we will be able to start assembling the main production batch of iCEBreakers. This will unfortunately result in a slight delay as to when we will start shipping out the remaining rewards. We are very sorry about that. We will keep you up to date and will let you know on Twitter as soon as we receive the parts. At least we are getting closer to the main batch assembly and we will have everything ready to go when the last few parts come in.

This month is also Crowd Supply Teardown Conference. If you are in the Portland, Oregon area you should definitely consider getting a ticket. It’s a really good conference with lots of interesting people.

Piotr will be going to Teardown and teaching an FPGA Workshop using the iCEBreakers. The hardware is sponsored by Lattice which is pretty exciting for those that will be able to score a Workshop spot. :D

As a result Piotr will be completing the iCEBreaker Workshop materials. You can look forward to a flurry of activity in the workshop github repository.

One more thing, if you receive your iCEBreaker make sure to let us know you got it and to share your experiences with all of us either through social media or in our forum. We are excited to see what you will build with your new FPGA development board!

For example, check out Bob Miller’s Twitter account, he is building a 3D printed LED Panel cube that uses an iCEBreaker to drive the LED panels. The project is a group effort together with Sylvain Munaut who developed the LED Panel driver IP, George Loakimedes that helped design the cube power board and zzaurak that inspired us all to make LED cubes and is writing a software framework for them. They are all in the iCEBreaker gitter channel too so make sure to drop by and say hi. Bob will be bringing some of his cube prototypes to the Crowd Supply Teardown conference in Portland Oregon so we hope you will be there to check it out in person.

And this is the zzaurak’s cube. He used to drive his cubes directly from the RaspberryPi, now he is using the iCEBreaker to drive the cube panels and uses the native RaspberryPi SPI interface to communicate with the iCEBreaker itself. This increased the refreshrate to a new level making it more stable and less flickery. It is also his first FPGA project!

As part of zzaurak’s port tnt implemented zigzag scanning. This new scanning method reduces artifacts of fast moving high contrast objects. For example vertical lines. Scanning this way reduces the delay of "exposing" two adjecent LED lines. If there is a long delay between the top and bottom half of the LED panel it creates a discontinuity effect between the two. It’s very exciting to follow the development and see the power of the iCEBreaker FPGA community. :)

That’s it for this update. See you in the next one.

Piotr and Danika

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