FPGA and LEGO Mindstroms

Two Students at TU Vienna (Alexander and Peter) have designed and built a very nice board to interface an FPGA (running JOP) with the
LEGO Mindstorms system. Take a look at http://www.jopdesign.com/wiki/index.php?title=Lego_PCB and also check their web site at: http://stud3.tuwien.ac.at/~e0327019/lego / for the feature list and images.
The board is a major step towards building FPGA based robots :-)
The design file is placed as open-source and you're free to build your own PCB. For those of you who don't want to solder your own board (like me) we can arrange a production run of several boards with a professional company. Please reply to the list (or to me) when you are interested in such a board.
The very rough estimate on the cost for the board is EUR 100,- However, that depends also on the number of boards we will produce.
Cheers, Martin
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It sounds neat, but to be fair, FPGA bots have been pretty easy to build for a while -- look up the BotBall "XBC" controller.
Cheers, - Joe
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ok, I'm quite new to the robots scene. I regret about this statement ;-) Do you have some links to FPGA/Mindstorms projects.
My intention was to get a Mindstorms interface for my Java processor to give students a chance to learn some Java real-time programming.
Cheers, Martin
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Hi
That sounds like fun!
I remember seeing that FPGA XBC controller some years ago, and wondered "How can I design and build such an FPGA?", because the cost to buy such a controller is prohibitive.
And recently I have been surfing the Web looking for info on FPGAs.
www.fpga4fun.com
There are some cheap little Altera & Xilinx programming hardware around:
www.knjn.com
If someone can throw some leads my way about designing such an FPGA for a robot that would be great, as I bought an old game Boy Colour that I would like to hack, similar to the XBC. Or building a stand-alone FPGA robot system.
It would be cool to build something like that for a digital design course at technical college.
Cheers
:-]
Dale
Martin Schoeberl wrote:

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Hi again
This looks very interesting, I took a quick peek. And will check it out later in detail.
However, were you aware that a Java Virtual Machine has been available for the RCX for several years?
Alternative operating systems have been around for years.
There are books available on the subject. And resources on the WWW.
Also, it is possible to program efficiently in C. Once again books are available.
Can also be programmed in Visual BASIC, Forth, etc...
Why waste a perfectly good 16-bit processor, the Hitachi H8?
Doesn't make sense to me to re-invent the wheel, when there have been alternatives for years.
I am not knocking the FPGA development, in fact it looks cool, I just was curious if you were aware of many alternatives to the native RCX programming system that make use of the 16-bit Hitachi CPU?
Cheers
:-]
Dale Stewart
Martin Schoeberl wrote:

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Yes, I know. I've played with it and also used it to compare it with JOP. And JOP is way faster ;-) http://www.jopdesign.com/perf.jsp

You're right the RCX / Hitachi is a nice HW. However, FPGAs are more fun. You can add your custom HW inside just with programming.

Agree, but for me building the electronic myself is more fun.
Cheers, Martin
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Hi
I took a look at the prices to buy the boards. To land it in Australia with shipping and duties would probably be around AUD $600 or more!
That's enough to buy 2 new Lego Mindstorms NXT, with change to buy the soon-to be released books on hacking the NXT, including using a new implementation of Java. $200 US.
Or I could maybe get 3 sets of Mindstorms 1.0 to 2.0.
Or around 10 RCX bricks! ebay $54.99 US
To me it just doen't make sense to buy all the boards manufactured would be ludicrous. :-[
However, maybe using a cheaper FPGA board from elsewhere and prototyping using a breadboard or designing and rolling your own through-hole or larger SMDs could be feasible.
Any ideas?
Cheers
:-]
Dale Stewart
Martin Schoeberl wrote:

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not cheap, right.

The interface board is open-source. So you can build it yourself. And there exists an open-source FPGA board that fits to the LEGO interface at: http://www.opencores.org/projects.cgi/web/acxbrd/overview That one is a little harder to solder, but it's possible.
Cheers, Martin
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Hi Martin
Thanks for the extra information. I am sure it will prove useful and fun when others and myself eventually start using FPGAs. It is great you have shared this open-source information and given people the opportunity to build this type of hardware and learn more about programming, computer architecture, and FPFAs.
Also, if I study computer science at university, it will definitely be an advantage to learn about java programming (the fun way) and FPGAs and processors.
Cheers
:-]
Dale
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You should see how cheaply you can get the XBC -- it's about $300, IIRC, plus maybe $50 for a GameBoy (which I'm sure you can get locally).
Note that I haven't actually used the XBC, but I've been impressed by what I've seen of it.
Best, - Joe
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Thanks Joe
Yes the XBC is a great piece of technology. I drooled over it, but it is out of my budget. I picked up a gameBoy Colour and two games for AUD $25 a while ago for some other project.
A problem has been to find a programmer for the replacement ROM.
Anyways I have just picked up a Digilent Starter's board for USD $74 on eBay today.
My aim is to eventually be able to build something similar to the XBC, or a stand-alone controller, as from what I believe the Xilinx chip on the demo board I am purchasing can have a range of microcontroller and microprocessor cores.
For example, there is the PicoBlaze Xilinx 8-bit core and there is a free C-compiler, and an Assembler that could be used with that.
When I get to that stage, I might release it as open-source, or maybe write a book - that would be a fun topic.
First I have to learn how to build simple logic components like a NAND gate, as the XBC is way out of my league at this stage!!!
Cheers
:-]
Dale
Joe Strout wrote:

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You could also use the Java processor JOP [1] on this board. Then you can do your programming in Java. A JOP version for the Xilinx Starter Kit is available.
BTW. that was the initial intention: get a LEGO interface for JOP to demonstrate JOP's real-time capabilities on a robot.
cheers, Martin
[1] http://www.jopdesign.com/
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