$11,990
pledged of $50,000pledged of $50,000 goal
145
backers
0seconds to go
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Tue, December 1 2015 5:59 AM UTC +00:00
Alorium TechnologyBy Alorium Technology
First created
Alorium TechnologyBy Alorium Technology
First created
$11,990
pledged of $50,000pledged of $50,000 goal
145
backers
0seconds to go
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Tue, December 1 2015 5:59 AM UTC +00:00

About

What is XLR8?

XLR8 is a drop-in replacement for an Arduino Uno, but with a twist. It is an Arduino-compatible board that uses a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) as the main processing chip.

The FPGA provides a reconfigurable hardware platform that hosts a clone of an ATmega328 microcontroller. The FPGA also provides the ability to implement custom logic that accelerates specific functionality known to be slow or otherwise problematic for the standard 8-bit ATmega328 microcontroller.

The FPGA-based hardware acceleration and offload provided by XLR8 results in significantly improved performance in the same physical footprint and using the same tool chain as standard Arduino Uno boards.

If you have a project that's using an Uno, you can swap in an XLR8 board right out of the box, and it will just work. You won't even know you're actually running your sketch on an FPGA, at least not until you fire up one of the accelerated functions…and then the magic happens.

Bottom line: XLR8 provides a solution to accelerate your Arduino-based applications and projects.

Why XLR8?

Our team has a lot of experience developing custom processor chips, but we also like to tinker, experiment and build things. Arduino is well known in our ranks as a great platform for Makers.

So, we started thinking about how to take the expertise we have in chip design (ASIC and FPGA) and apply it to the Arduino space. Initially, we were talking about building an FPGA Arduino shield, but quickly decided that the FPGA was "too far away" from the processor to really be interesting. It would take too long to get information back and forth between the two.

We realized that what we really wanted, what would really be unique, what would add the most value, was to have the microcontroller ON the FPGA rather than sitting next to it or attached to it through the standard headers.

And XLR8 was born.

Xcelerator Blocks

An Xcelerator Block is an optimized hardware implementation of a unique processor-intensive function.   Since everything needs a cool acronym, we simply refer to one of these blocks as an “XB”.

Basically, an XB is a custom piece of hardware, implemented on the same FPGA fabric as the ATmega328 and tightly integrated with the microcontroller. XBs can access the same register space and even integrate with the instructions of the microcontroller.

The first XB we developed targets floating-point math. So, instead of 100 or more clock cycles to do a floating point add, our custom hardware can do it in 6 clocks. Multiply and subtract see similar improvement, and divide is even better.

And if you've ever been frustrated by that annoying servo jitter when you just want it to be still, our hardware-based servo controller XB provides a rock-steady PWM signal that is more than 15 times more stable than the standard Arduino library.

XLR8 ships with pre-installed XBs that target application-specific behavior, and the board can be field-updated to change the XBs implemented on the FPGA.

We currently have XBs for:

  • Floating Point Math
  • Servo Control
  • NeoPixel Control (in development)

Early feedback from developers indicates interest in XBs targeting functions such as:

  • Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) control
  • Event Counters and Timers
  • Quadrature Encoders/Decoders
  • Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)
  • Multiple UARTS
  • Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT)
  • Enhanced Analog-to-Digital Functionality

Alorium Technology has plans to add additional XBs and will be developing those and rolling them out soon.

User-Created XBs

Out of the gate, Alorium Technology’s primary goal was to create an FPGA-based board that is a drop-in replacement for the Arduino Uno. It supports FPGA image updates via the USB port, and there is also a JTAG footprint on the board so that more advanced FPGA users could use a JTAG programmer to talk to the FPGA directly.

The ATmega328 core that we have developed has been designed to be easily extendable, and initially, Alorium Technology will provide limited support for users who want to create their own XBs and interface to the on-chip microcontroller. Down the road, we do plan to provide access to enough source code and documentation to make it possible for someone proficient with Verilog or VHDL, and with Quartus II, to create their own XBs. The sky’s the limit on what can be done, and the XBs created this way can be shared with the rest of the XLR8 community.

XLR8 Advantages

Technical Specifications

XLR8 is based on the popular Arduino Uno board, and matches the Uno’s physical footprint, so any mounting brackets or shields that fit Uno will also fit XLR8.

Because we’ve used a 3.3V FPGA as the main chip on the board, the final design will include circuitry for handling level shifting on the I/Os. Electrically, we’ve gone out of our way to be sure that XLR8 is compatible with the 5V environment that Arduino Uno users are accustomed to.

Out of the box, the board has 5V tolerant inputs, and 3.3V outputs. On the digital I/O, the board has pads for pull-up resistors which, when populated, can create true 5V drive capability on these pins.

On the analog pins, we have used an op-amp circuit to emulate the zero-to-5V behavior of the ADCs on the Atmel chips. However, unlike an Arduino board, XLR8 will give correct ADC results regardless of whether it’s powered from USB or from the barrel connector. When a standard Arduino board is powered from USB, it will give incorrect ADC readings due to a reduced 5v supply. Additionally, XLR8’s ADC is higher performing in both speed (1MHz) and resolution (12 bit) than the ATmega ADC, so watch for future XBs that will help users take advantage of this increased ADC performance.

The ATmega core will be running at 16MHz on the initial production boards, the same as on the Uno. However, our timing analysis has shown that the XLR8 hardware should be able to run at least twice that frequency, though there will be some library updates needed to make it seamless for the user. We plan to release updated FPGA images soon to take advantage of the additional performance on the FPGA, which will translate directly to increased application performance.

For the USB-to-serial interface, we use an FTDI chip. The pre-production boards use an FT232RQ, and the production boards will have an FT230XQ on them. Paired with a mini-USB connector, the board has a very similar feel to it as Sparkfun’s Redboard.

Application Examples

 This demo shows our XLR8 board connected to a color TFT LCD display via SPI, a 3-axis accelerometer via I2C, and a Neopixel array from Adafruit. Note that this was one of the early demos that we did with XLR8, mostly to show that it can speak SPI, I2C, and can run the timing-critical assembly code routines that the Neopixel library uses. There are no XBs used for this demo, but we are “moments” away from a Neopixel XB that will free up the processor and memory of the Arduino so that you can drive Neopixels, and still do other things with your Arduino. How cool is that?!?

 This demo shows the enhanced stability that XLR8’s hardware-based servo control logic achieves compared to the standard software-based library typically used on an Arduino board. The left servo/laser pointer is connected to a Redboard running the software-based servo library, while the right servo/laser point is being controlled by an XLR8 board with hardware-based servo control. The XLR8 solution provides rock-solid servo control compared with the software-based control.

This demo shows how much faster XLR8 can do floating point math than a standard Arduino-compatible board. The fans at the bottom of the tubes run continuously until each board (an XLR8 on the left, and a Redboard on the right) gets a pulse which simultaneously turns off the fans and begins a sequence of floating point math calculations. When the calculations are done, the fans are turned back on. You’ll notice that, with the Readboard, the ball falls nearly to the bottom of the tube before the fan is able to propel it back to the top. With XLR8, the ball only falls a few inches before the fan is able to return it to the top of the tube.

Budget and Goals

Our goal is to be able to do a large enough production run of XLR8 boards that will allow us to offer them for sale at a price that is competitive with other high-end Arduino boards. We believe that we need to be in the $70-$80 retail price range to achieve this, and to make XLR8 attractive to high-end users.

We have invested nearly 2 person-years of engineering effort into the development of XLR8 so far. We are continuing to invest, and with your help, we will reach our goal of $50,000 which will enable us to start our initial production run of 1,000 XLR8 boards, and begin to change the world, one XLR8 board at a time!

Risks and challenges

Every engineering development has risks. Some are small, some are big, and some are show-stoppers. We’ve had prototype hardware in our lab since mid-July, and we’re confident that there are no show-stopper bugs. We have found and fixed a number of big and small bugs, and given the level of both simulation and hardware-based testing we’ve done to date, we are confident that we are in the home stretch regarding finding and fixing any remaining bugs.

We have built a couple rounds of protos through one supplier, but we are in the process of evaluating our supply chain for the production builds. We want to be sure we do our diligence and have a good solution lined up. We plan to do a proto run with the new board rev in November to be sure we’re ready for the production run soon after that.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $15 or more About $15

    The XLR8 Wall of Fame

    Your name will appear on our Wall of Fame at AloriumTech.com. Thank you for supporting Alorium Technology and XLR8!

    All pledges of $15 or more will include a Wall of Fame listing.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    5 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    For the 3D Printing Maker

    We will email you an STL file so you can 3D-print your own very cool XLR8-branded board stand. This stand holds an XLR8 board (or your favorite Arduino Uno R3 board) alongside a breadboard.

    This is just the STL file. The 3D-printed stand, XLR8 board, and breadboard are not included.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    1 backer
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    Just Send Me a Stand

    Don’t have a 3D printer yet? We will send you a very cool 3D-printed, XLR8-branded board stand. This stand holds an XLR8 board (or your favorite Arduino Uno R3 board) alongside a breadboard.

    The XLR8 board and breadboard are not included.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 3 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  4. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    SUPER EARLY BIRD!

    We'll ship an XLR8 board to our first 50 backers for only $50 each. That's a screamin' deal!

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Reward no longer available 50 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $65 or more About $65

    Hey, I want one, too!

    Missed out on the Super Early Bird special? You can still be among the first to get an XLR8 board with your pledge of $65.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    43 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $95 or more About $95

    Starter Kit

    You will get an XLR8 board paired with our very cool XLR8-branded board stand and a breadboard - ready to start Making!

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 16 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $125 or more About $125

    Great Things Come in Pairs

    Need a couple boards? Get 2 XLR8 boards - a great value!

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    8 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    A Playground for My XLR8 Boards

    How about this? 2 XLR8 boards, plus we'll throw in one of our very cool XLR8-branded board stands and a breadboard for a few bucks more than just the 2 XLR8 boards.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 9 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    Limited-Edition XLR8 Gold board!

    Help get us to our goal, and get your hands on an XLR8 from a very limited production run of black & gold boards - only offered through Kickstarter!

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 0 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $450 or more About $450

    Claim It and Frame It!

    We will send you a commemorative signed, framed, Neopixel-ized XLR8 Gold display piece. You can just stand back and admire it, or you can use the included XLR8 Gold board for your projects. It’s definitely unique, and only available through Kickstarter!

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 0 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $600 or more About $600

    The Educator Special

    Trying to outfit a lab or classroom? This 10-pack of XLR8 boards might be just the ticket.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    2 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  12. Select this reward

    Pledge $750 or more About $750

    Time with the Team Package

    Pledge $750 or more, and you will get our Starter Kit PLUS the opportunity to talk with our development team!

    In addition to an XLR8 board paired with our very cool XLR8-branded board stand and a breadboard, you will get a lunch (or a 1 hour video call if you're not planning to be in Eau Claire, WI, USA) with any one of our team members to ask questions, provide feedback on XLR8, share ideas for new XBs, or just to talk shop! (travel to Eau Claire, WI, USA not included)

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Limited 0 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.

Funding period

- (28 days)