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Open source cape opens BeagleBone up to Lattice iCE40 FPGA

Feb 28, 2018 — by Eric Brown 1,803 views

A CrowdSupply campaign is pitching an open source $85 “BeagleWire” BeagleBone cape with a Lattice iCE40HX-4k FPGA, 4x Grove interfaces, 4x PMODs, and 32MB RAM.

Carbondale, Ill. based QWERTY Embedded Design has gone to Crowd Supply to help seek funds for its open source, Lattice iCE40HX-4k driven BeagleWire FPGA development cape for the BeagleBone Black. There are several Raspberry Pi add-ons that incorporate the Lattice iCE40HX FPGA, including Black Mesa Labs’ IceZero, but this appears to be the only BeagleBone cape featuring the minimalist FPGA. Other FPGA-enabled BeagleBone capes include ValentFX’s Xilinx Spartan-6 XC6SLX9 based Logi-Bone and its SDR-focused, Xilinx Artix-7 A35 based KiwiSDR.

BeagleWire (left) and BeagleBone Black
(click images to enlarge)

The “ approved” BeagleWire first appeared last Spring as a Hackster-io project, and is now seeking a wider audience. The 90 x 68 x 18mm board is open source in both hardware and software. In addition to supporting the BB Black, it can connect with the BeagleBone Black Wireless and BeagleBone Black Industrial SBCs.

The cape’s relatively simple, low-end Lattice iCE40HX FPGA is a popular choice for developers who want to engage in fast logic device prototyping or learn the fundamental of FPGAs without investing in years of training. The BeagleWire is also said to be suitable for robotics and automation, data acquisition and signal processing, and mobile applications.


QWERTY compares the BeagleWire with the RPi-connected IceZero and Lattice’s iCEstick eval kit, which offer 1k and 4k versions of the iCE40HX, respectively. The comparison chart also includes Terasic’s supported, Cyclone V-based DE0-Nano Development and Education Board, a lower-cost version of the ARM/Linux enabled DE0-Nano-SoC Development Kit, which has appeared in our recent open source hacker board roundups. Compared to the two Lattice-based boards, it’s the only fully open source product, and it has more PMOD and Grove connectors than any of these competitors.

BeagleWire detail view
(click images to enlarge)

The BeagleWire is equipped with a Lattice iCE40HX-4k clocked to 100MHz, plus 4MB SPI flash and 32MB SDRAM. The cape provides 4x Pmod and 4x Grove connectors, as well as GPIO, 4x LEDs, 2x DIP switches, and 2x pushbuttons with hardware noise debouncing. Operating at 3.3V, the board draws 5V power from the BeagleBone, and communicates with the SBC via the GPMC port.

The open source software stack is based on the lightweight Project IceStorm toolchain, which lets users synthesize Verilog code on the BeagleBone “without installing any additional software on their computer,” says QWERTY. IceStorm in turn incorporates the Yosys synthesis suite and Arachne-PNR to generate programmable bitstreams.

Further information

The BeagleWire is available on Crowd Supply through April 12 for $85. A $160 Deluxe Kit version includes a BeagleBone Black and a pre-loaded microSD card. More information may be found on the BeagleWire Crowd Supply page, and more may eventually appear on the QWERTY Embedded Design website. The Crowd Supply page points to KiCAD and software repositories, as well as this BeagleWire wiki.

(advertise here)

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