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Athena: An FPGA-based UGV from Olin College May 3, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in labview robot projects.
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Meet Athena, a UGV designed by students at Olin College to compete in the 2010 Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC).

Athena avoids obstacles using an NI SingleBoardRIO, an FPGA-based embedded processor. Unlike processors, FPGAs use dedicated hardware for processing logic via a matrix of reconfigurable gate array logic circuitry and do not have an operating system.

Since FPGAs are simply huge fields of programmable gates, they can be programmed into many parallel hardware paths. This makes them truly parallel in nature so different processing operations do not have to compete for the same resources. Programmers can automatically map their solutions directly to the FPGA fabric, allowing them to create any number of task-specific cores that all run like simultaneous parallel circuits inside one FPGA chip.

This becomes very useful for roboticists. For anyone programming sophisticated algorithms for autonomy, FPGAs can make a netbook look like an Apple II. Granted, FPGAs are not the easiest embedded processing solution to master, assuming you don’t have an extensive background in VHDL programming.

However, the students at Olin College have taken up LabVIEW FPGA, which allows them to program the FPGA on their sb-RIO using an intuitive, graphical programming language; VHDL programming not necessary.

As a result, they can run their algorithms super fast; incredibly fast; and the faster your robot can think, the smarter your robot can become.

Here’s what Nick Hobbs, one of Athena’s builders had to say:

The cool thing about this is we’re processing LIDAR scans at 70Hz. That means in 1/70 of a second we’re evaluating 180 data points effects on 16 possible vehicle paths. This is super fast, super parallel processing of a ton of data that couldn’t happen without NI’s FPGA. Oh, and naturally, all programmed in LabVIEW!

It’s making more sense on why they named their robot Athena; she’s one smart robot. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Nick’s team. Check out more videos on their YouTube Channel.

For more info on FPGA-level programming and other multicore solutions, check out this white paper.

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Comments»

1. Nadav - May 4, 2010

I wonder how the FPGA was programmed. When I program FPGAs I use C-to-Verilog.com ; It allows you to compiler regular C code into Verilog, for FPGAs.

emiliekopp - May 5, 2010

In this case, the students used LabVIEW to program the FPGA.

2. cihip - July 21, 2010

An FPGA-based UGV from Olin College for thanx.


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