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NRFICE is a dongle-free Bluetooth FPGA board in an Arduino Uno form factor. It combines the dual-core Bluetooth SoC nRF5340 with the Lattice ICE40UP5K FPGA to simplify development of edge computing and IoT products. Built in JLink programming and debugging means no emulator dongles to buy or carry around, including for commercial use. The open source Android app allows loading of nRF and ICE40 projects over Bluetooth out of the box. The NRFICE’s form factor supports 3.3 V shields and has a beefy 5 V power supply on board (9 - 12 V wall-wart input) to supply shield/daughter boards with plenty of power for LED lighting, motor controllers, etc.
NRFICE allows for rapid prototyping of mobile peripheral and edge computing devices. With fewer wires and no programming dongles, many things are possible. Educators can provide experimentation hardware to students with minimal bring-up. Our community can easily develop new sample projects. Once underway, any of the complete sample builds can be chosen in a list on the mobile app and immediately programmed into the board with a phone, no other wires/dongles needed.
We believe the combination of the nRF5340 and ICE40UP5K is the best chip set for development of edge computing applications. The ICE40UP5K already has examples from Lattice that interface to image sensors and implement AI models for gesture detection, and there are many more existing open source projects for the ICE40 family that perform cutting edge tasks.
In using both, developers and students are getting real world development experience on an FPGA family that is also cost effective in volume production environments. This is in contrast to a lot of DIY projects using Arduino, and others, where the skills learned are not easily carried into industry where cost, size, and manufacturability are serious issues.
Now, importantly, you’ve got your ICE40 for edge computing/AI tasks, but how does it communicate with the outside world? There’s always an MCU to work the marionette strings. We think the nRF5340 is the best choice for development. Nordic semi, as well as module makers like Fanstel, have a rich list of parts at various performance and price points, so when you’ve got your design proven on NRFICE, you can then choose the most cost effective production chip set.
Development tool chains for embedded systems can be costly and cumbersome. Fortunately, Segger Embedded Studio is free to Nordic Semi chip users, and Lattice has made its professional FPGA development tool, Radiant, free for the ICE40 family. This means professional grade development tools are ready to go for NRFICE at no cost to you. Microsoft VS Code is also free and supported by the nRF-Connect plugin. Example projects exercising every feature of the nRF5340 SoC are a few clicks away.
Any idea requiring mobile device connectivity is appropriate for the NRFICE board as a base, in particular, if FPGA performance is needed. Existing example projects for nRF5340 include Central, Peripheral, and HIDS Bluetooth LE 5 roles, Bluetooth 5 mesh networking, near field communication such as pairing to smart cards and implanted chips, direction finding and distance measurement using Bluetooth radio, and cryptographic capabilities: AES CBC/CCM/CTR/GCM, ECDH, ECDSA,HKDF, HMAC, PSA TLS, RNG, RSA, SHA-256.
The Lattice ICE40UP5K FPGA has many capabilities. Reference designs from Lattice, including AI training data sets, include:
NRFICE Android App
We are passionate about open source and our public Github repository includes our BOM, Eagle schematic and BRD files, gerbers, example/test verilog (FPGA) projects, android app source, nRF Connect projects, and a PC app that supports the device over serial port as an alternative to the Bluetooth connection. NRFICE is OSHWA Certified.
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Aptos, CA · hurley_research · HurleyResearchLLC · hurleyresearch.com
A small team of affiliated engineers, we have been developing new technologies since 1997 for a variety of companies, and some projects of our own. Now we’re looking to share what we’ve learned over the decades with the open source community.