About this project
The Binary explORer boArd
What is digital logic? Digital logic isn't programming software - in software the code you write executes statements. In digital logic you are really designing hardware.
At Dalhousie University Colin O'Flynn (www.newae.com) was teaching a class on digital logic. But doing the labs was tedious - students were physically wiring up chips, that was no fun. The other option is programmable logic, where there are many low-cost boards you can purchase. However, using them was still somewhat complicated for students who had never seen digital logic before.
Enter BORA - the simple way to get started in Digital Logic. It gives you a nice breadboard with switches & LEDs to do your projects on. More importantly, it gives you some nice software setup - just draw your schematic & download to the board, life is easy. It combines this with a whole creative-common licensed class in digital logic. The system is also designed to introduce students to real tools used in industry, meaning the lessons learned will be directly applicable to more powerful devices. Colin partnered with us at Colorado Micro Devices (www.coloradomicrodevices.com) to make this a reality.
Suitable for people with no background in electronics or digital design, this board could be used in high-school or university classrooms, or for learning on your own. A great New Years present (I would say Christmas, but you might not get them by then!).
Complex Programmable Logic Device (CPLD)
The final boards will feature a XC9572XL device, which gives you equivalent to around 1600 gates. It's enough to get going and do some simple projects like a kitchen timer or a security system.
On-board USB Programmer
This device runs open-source software to program the Xilinx CPLD device. In addition you can use it to program other devices - most devices with JTAG could be attached to it, and we are expanding the firmware to program AVRs too (so you could use this to program Arduino files). The final version will have a Mini-USB connector, and not the A connector shown. See the video after about using this as an AVR programmer!
Eight LEDs provided in red/yelow/green/green grouping. Use them to build a pass/go messages, stoplight simulators, and more.
There are 5 general-purpose switches, and one dedicated to a reset line on the CPLD. The photo below shows the switch part being used on the final board in comparison to the ones on the prototype board shown in the video. It will be a little easier to see, and a little easier to move about with your finger.
A breadboard lets you build up other circuits & add additional parts.
The design software is the free Xilinx ISE Webpack, which you can download from http://www.xilinx.com/webpack (registration required, download is > 4GB). We are working with Xilinx to see if we can provide a copy of the Install DVD for everyone who orders, right now it's just the starter kits.
The design software lets you draw a schematic & get started. You can progress to more advanced entry methods too such as Verilog & VHDL. Check out the following video to see a complete design example using schematic entry, see how easy it really is:
The design tools ONLY run on Windows or Linux (sorry Mac users). The programming tool runs perfectly on Linux or Windows 32-bit. Windows 64-bit users currently have to disable driver signing (option when booting), although we are working on fixing that. Colin uses a Windows 7 64-bit machine, so rest assured it is possible.
AVR Programmer - Work with an Arduino-compatible chip for $4?
You might want to check out Update #4 for full details - but basically you can program an Atmel AVR with this! Here is the video of Update #4:
What's Included (see 'Stretch Goals' below too!)
There are four reward categories. Here is a little more detail about parts of them:
BORA Board: This is the mainstay of this project. The blank board comes in an anti-static bag. You will need a usb-mini cable to work with this - some of the rewards come with them, the most basic one does not. If you don't have a cable consider purchasing from a discount site if you don't want the full starter kit (e.g.: dx.com or similar). Be sure to get USB-Mini & NOT USB-Micro. Comes in a nice storage box (see photo below).
Starter Kit: The starter kit includes a few extra items you may want, see update #5 for the complete list. This includes a few discrete digital IC's to see how you can build digital devices the old fashion way, two comparators ICs (LM339), ten transistors (2N2222), 120 resistors, 54 capacitors, two buzzers, 20 diodes a potentiometer, a small DC motor, and some wire. These components will let you do more advanced projects such as adding a buzzer to a burglar alarm, or learning how to use a comparator chip to measure an analog value. It also includes the USB cable and Webpack DVD. We'll post a photo update of this.
Webpack DVD: Xilinx ISE Webpack is the required design software. You can download it from http://www.xilinx.com/support/download/index.htm . You don't need a specific version, some of the older versions might be smaller downloads. The Webpack DVD is just a hard copy of this.
Your Name on the Supporters List: On our website at coloradomicrodevices.com we will list everyone who made this project possible. The silkscreen will feature a link to this list, which will be present even on the boards sold after this kickstarter run.
Delivery Information & Production Schedule
As you can see, we've already got a complete design. The last thing we need to do is push through full production - which takes about a month. We plan on ordering about 100 units while the Kickstarter is still active. Those first 100 units we are using to confirm production quality, and assuming it is all OK, those first 100 units will be shipped to the first 100 backers if the project is successful.
The remaining orders will be pushed through after the Kickstarter ends. We're hoping for delivery before Christmas, but that is 'absolute best case', so plan for delivery early Jan 2013. We're running a shorter 18-day Kickstarter to try and speed everything up, but production does take a month still.
International shipments have no chance or arriving before Christmas (sorry!) due to the longer shipping times. If you are in the first 100 that gets pre-ordered you might be lucky, but we can hardly guarantee that. Devices will be manufactured lead-free to allow shipment to EU countries, and to try and help out the environment where we can!
We'll be shipping everything in a nice box that doubles as a storage container too:
Why Support us?
We plan on selling this as a usual product at Colorado Micro Devices after the Kickstarter phase. But we doubt you will get the board for $35 shipped at the normal price! And as a Kickstarter contributor (at any level) your name will be added to the 'thanks' pages of the website, which will be directly linked from every Bora board. Plus you'll be getting these before anybody would through normal sales channels. Finally, by contributing here you get to see a useful product launched, one that will hopefully help thousands of people get started on the path of Digital Logic Design.
Resources Included Here
Check the official website at www.binaryexplorer.com for links to all the resources mentioned. This includes the creative-commons licensed slides, copies of presentations, and a user support forum.
Resources Elsewhere on the Web
There are all sorts of great intro to digital logic & programmable logic resources. Here are just a sampling of them:
If you are interested in a full-blown book, one of the best resources is the book 'Bebop to the Boolean Boogie', shown below. I have no connection to the author, just found it an interesting & fun way to get people into Digital logic! You can check your local library, or the link below takes you to Amazon ($32).
You can see the main website at www.binaryexplorer.com , which links to the documentation & all other features.
Stretch Goals! Get Even More!
- Create a simple 'Quick Start' pamphlet to ship with the board & the starter kit. The version in the starter kit may be more advanced such as a real little booklet, with a few sample projects to get you going.
- Improving the current YouTube videos, expanding them & adding a few showing the Binary Explorer projects.
- Add additional devices in the starter kit: a small motor. Learn about driving a motor at different speeds and in forward/reverse. Some extra parts (more transistors, diodes, capacitors) will also be added to make this possible.
- Add a special 'Thank-You' postcard to every order signed by the development team. This will be a custom postcard - maybe showing a little bit of Nova Scotia or Colorado Springs (the two geographical areas involved in this project). Either way it will be something to hold onto! Anyone who pledges more than $5 will get one - either as part of your order, or for those who didn't order boards we'll mail one to you!
- Make the USB interface program an AVR mounted on the breadboard. This would mean you could use the BORA board to program Arduino projects - all you'd need to add is a suitable AVR Microcontroller (such as AtMega328P). This is something we plan on adding eventually, but if we raise $30K will aim to have this ready before Christmas time.
- Ship Mini-USB cable with the bare board in addition to the starter kit
- Add an AtMega328P to the Starter Kit - your Binary Explorer board just became something you can use like an Arduino, since the Binary Explorer can program the AVR, which you can program with the Arudino Environment. Of course beyond adding the part to the kit, we will also add the required documentation to understand how to use it.
Risks and challenges
We've got the design finished and almost all the documentation ready. We've aligned a production house, one which we've had previous experience with, so are confident the results should be good.
We will be funding the first run personally before Kickstarter ends, which will speed up the order of the first 100 boards. This also means we can reduce the risk of something going wrong on the final order!
The main risk in this project is delays. We're aiming for Christmas delivery for US orders, but we need to admit it's not a guarantee. We'll be busy fulfilling our first Kickstarter project (The RadioBlocks), so these projects are going to be overlapping. If there are delays in either project it could push delivery of your Bora board further out.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
There is NO analog to digital converter (ADC) on the CPLD or board. However with an external comparator chip (included in the starter kit, or just buy any voltage comparator) you can do this. You can also use an external ADC chip, but part of the idea of this kit is to learn about how the ADC itself works.
There are a lot of great CPLD & FPGA Starter Boards out there, many of them at a similar price. This board was designed only for teaching purposes - and this is what differentiates it. For example the breadboard mounted directly on-top means you can build up a circuit with discrete logic devices. Then you can transition that design to programmable logic, all in the same board. The breadboard itself provides power rails, making it ideal for someone who has never even used a breadboard before!
When this was designed for classroom use, it was also desired that one board had all the features integrated into a single package. This means no external breadboard or other parts. The reason? If you want to teach in a normal computer lab, you don't want a bunch of stuff hanging around for people to forget/lose. This way you just have one board with everything on it.
The Software is Xilinx's commercial toolset to program these devices. The latest version is huge - you need over 8GB of space to install it. Luckily you can use an old version if you want, which have much smaller hard-drive requirements (e.g. < 1GB).
The software is not open-source. There is no complete open-source toolchain for programmable logic, as details of the design of the chip itself is secret. When selecting this we wanted to show people what they might be using in industry, as remember this was originally designed for teaching university/college students. The software is free (as in beer), but not open.
The tool that physically programs the chip is open source, and so is the firmware on the USB programming chip itself.
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