Every year during the month of January, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gives their students a full month off from regular courses to pursue their own personal ingenuity, something they like to call the Independent Activities Period (IAP). From improv-comedy workshops to specified bio-chemistry lectures, a whole slew of activities are made available to students. Included in the mix this year for the very first time was a System-On-Chip (SoC) design competition sponsored by ARM and two ARM partners: Digilent and Xilinx.
“This is very exciting for ARM, Xilinx, and Digilent. A design competition like this is not only unprecedented, but is being held at one of the best academic engineering institutions in the world,” said Joe Bungo, ARM’s University Program Manager for the Americas and Europe. What makes this unprecedented you might ask? Not only is it the first time ARM has sponsored a design competition at MIT, but it’s also the first SoC design contest anywhere to use a real, fully instruction-set compatible ARM core. Not a bad way to start. The goal of the competition was for students to create a correctly-functioning ARM processor-based SoC design complete with associated peripherals and memory components, and was left open-ended intentionally to allow students greater opportunities for creative programming and varied approaches.
Each team of 1 to 5 students was sponsored with a barebones Nexys3 Xilinx FPGA-based development board from Digilent, a real ARM CortexTM-M0 DesignStart processor core in the form of an obfuscated Verilog netlist, and the necessary hardware and software development tools from Xilinx and Keil. A working example base design was also supplied. Then MIT professors and sponsor representatives introduced example themes and offered support through a series of workshops lasting the first week of the competition. Once students had a solid foothold, they were turned loose for the rest of the month to use their own ingenuity and programming skills in building a unique system design centered on optimal performance and energy efficiency.
The prizes for the top three designs, sponsored by all three companies involved, included a share of $3K in cash as well as a variety of ARM-based development platforms valued at around $2K in total.
This was a very open-ended contest requiring a good deal of time and effort to develop both hardware and software, so I applaud all the professors, sponsors, judges, and especially the MIT students who made the contest a success! Thanks and we look forward to doing it all again next year!
1st Place: MindLinx
This was a very ambitious demonstration in which the presenter turned slides with his mind using a cross-discipline mix of analog electronics, signal processing, video output, and data characterization. Their versatile design can wirelessly monitor and process a wide variety of bio-electrical signals in real-time, including brain patterns, heartbeat, and muscle activity. This technology can be used for health assessment as well as the ability to mentally control a computer.
2nd Place: Maglev
Even as a single-person team, this student made a very impressive presentation by using the Nexys3 FPGA board to develop a real-time embedded controller that magnetically levitates a ball. His scalable design interfaced the ARM Cortex-M0 DesignStart core with peripherals including 2 analog inputs, 2 analog outputs, UART, a timer, LEDs, and switches.
3rd Place: Deltabot
As another impressive single-person team, this student created a 3-axis motor controller that controlled a delta platform made from Lego and metal bits. It had a clear commercial justification and a working implementation running on the FPGA board. The custom servo controller and the LCD user interface were both integrated with the ARM core to run on C code.
Honorable Mentions: Speech Button & Pitch Shifter
All Participants and Judges:
About the ARM University Program: The ARM University Program provides a variety of starting points, tools, and materials to both students and faculty, including development systems, core and physical IP components, OS's, system-level tools, training materials, as well as a variety of lab samples, example curricula, and student application notes. Guest lectures are available as well upon request.
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George W Lattimore, Marketing Specialist, ARM University Program. Fresh out of college, he’s eager to bridge the gap between academia and the expanding array of ARM technologies embedded in everyone’s pockets, automobiles, and almost every other electronic device. These days he thrives on sharing and discussing ARM-related academic news with students and professors alike through various social media outlets, ARM University Program Newsletters, and a variety of other channels.
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