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Tiny module runs Linux and LabView on ARM/FPGA SoC

Jul 15, 2014 — by Rick Lehrbaum 6,836 views

National Instruments unveiled a 2 x 3-inch module that runs real-time Linux on a Xilinx hybrid ARM/FPGA SoC, and can be programmed graphically with LabView.

NI’s new “sbRIO-9651” system-on-module (SOM) is aimed at simplifying the design of custom data acquisition and control systems, by offering full compatibility with the NI LabView graphical programming environment. Additionally, the module’s core hardware and software compatibility with NI’s cRIO-9068 “CompactRIO” controller is said to further accelerate custom designs by letting programmers develop and test their software on an off-the-shelf system prior to the availability of custom hardware based on the SOM. To that end, the sbRIO-9651 SOM and cRIO-9068 controller system both use the same Xilinx Zynq-7020 SoC, and run a common “NI Linux Real Time” software stack.

sbRIO-9651 SOM bare, and with heat spreader
(click bare SOM image to enlarge)

This compatibility lets the software team use an NI CompactRIO system (shown below) to “quickly prototype their applications and then deploy … with the same code used for prototyping, which saves significant time and effort,” says NI. “After prototyping with CompactRIO controllers, the NI SOM will reuse the majority of the code, saving the time of developing custom algorithms or application software again.”

cRIO-9068 CompactRIO controller
(click image to enlarge)

Rapid product design is also aided by the module’s reconfigurable FPGA technology, with which “you can perform high-speed signal processing, high-speed or deterministic control, inline signal processing, and custom timing and triggering,” says NI. “For control systems, you can also run advanced control algorithms directly in the FPGA fabric to minimize latency and maximize loop rates.”

Software stack


The sbRIO-9651 is supported by the company’s NI Linux Real Time software stack, which includes a Linux BSP, drivers, middleware, and the LabView graphical IDE (integrated development environment), as illustrated below.

Linux-based software stack
(click image to enlarge)

NI developed the NI Linux Real Time distribution for its cRIO-9068 CompactRIO controller system (shown farther above), which it introduced last summer. Combined with the NI LabView IDE, the stack offers developers “a rich set of community-sourced libraries and applications to augment their control and monitoring systems,” says NI. LabView features a wide range of connectivity options, including web service creation and secure, industry-standard WebDAV browser-based file management.

Control and monitoring application examples
(click images to enlarge)

NI Linux Real-Time is a dual-mode OS, enabling recovery from application failure without significant disruption, says NI. The distribution facilitates “true multitasking support,” enabling multiple programs to run in parallel, says the company. For example, one can run a database directly on the real-time target alongside a LabView Real-Time application.

NI says its customized real-time Linux OS “integrates the performance of an RTOS with the openness and community of Linux.” On top of that, the LabView IDE offers “an alternative to HDLs [and] provides a graphical development environment with thousands of functions and IP blocks for both processor and FPGA logic development,” says NI.

Development platform

To facilitate custom designs based on the sbRIO-9651 SOM, NI offers an “NI sbRIO-9651 SOM Development Kit.” The kit includes a ready-to-use carrier board (shown below), along with the SOM’s Linux BSP, device drivers, the NI LabView IDE, and detailed hardware documentation.

sbRIO-9651 carrier board

The development kit comes with schematics and gerber files for the carrier board, and provides documentation for the board’s onboard peripheral interfaces, which include gigabit Ethernet, USB Host and Device ports, SD, serial, and CAN bus.

The carrier board is also equipped with four PMOD connectors, said to enable easy addition of off-the-shelf PMOD modules for functions ranging from “simple analog I/O to stereo power speakers.” Also included on the carrier board is a prototyping area with selectable voltage level for 48 FPGA I/O lines that “allow for connectivity to a wide range of components, such as ADCs or a custom connector,” adds NI.

Summary of specs

Specifications listed by National Instruments for the sbRIO-9651 include:

  • SoC — Xilinx Zynq-7020
    • CPU — 2x ARM Cortex-A9 cores @ 667MHz
    • FPGA — Artix-7
  • Memory:
    • 512MB DRAM
    • 512MB flash
  • Expansion — SDHC slot
  • Dedicated processor I/O:
    • Gigabit Ethernet
    • USB 2.0 Host
    • USB 2.0 Host/Device
    • RS232 (TX/RX)
  • FPGA-based I/O:
    • 160 single-ended lines
    • Configurable peripherals — gigabit Ethernet, 3x RS232, 2x RS485, 2x CAN bus
  • Dimensions — 2 x 3 inches
  • Thermal:
    • Includes integrated heat spreader
    • Usable in -40 to 85 °C ambient environments
  • Power — 3 to 5 Watts (typical); input voltages not specified
  • Operating system — NI Linux Real Time

Further information

The NI sbRIO-9651 SOM appears to be shipping now. Single unit pricing was not listed, but in OEM quantities the module is priced at $599 (100 units), $479 (500), and $399 (1000). More details may be found on the NI sbRIO-9651 product page and in the NI System on Module Overview. A development kit, which includes the module and a ready-to-use carrier board, is available here.

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