FPGAs solve core IoT challenges: Page 4 of 4

July 06, 2016 // By Helmut Demel, Lattice Semiconductor
The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a wildly popular term these days, often used to describe a world in which virtually every electronic device connects to the Internet and each other. It comprises a staggering list of applications — everything from smart consumer appliances and vehicles to wearables — and that list will only grow as mobility continues to explode. But this growth brings with it implementation challenges to which solutions need to be found.

Challenge 3 – Migration to a new processor due to increased requirements

As the saying goes, the only thing that is constant is change. This is quite true in all electronic products, including those involved in IoT. Most of this change in electronic products is additive in nature – adding new features, new interfaces, more memory, bigger displays, improved wireless modules, and new sensors. Such a migration from generation to generation of a product family often demands migration to a larger, more powerful processor to accommodate extra IOs, higher bandwidth, and new interface standards.

There is, however, another option – a processor companion FPGA. A low cost FPGA can be used to augment and supplement many of the processor’s requirements, the designer to keep the existing processor and minimize the impact to the firmware. This companion FPGA can expand the number of IOs, control a new type of memory, bridge to new serial interface standards, or add more sensors by expanding I²C and SPI serial ports. Here are some examples in Figures 6 and 7.

Figure 6: Processor expansion for DDR3, LEDs, and display.

Figure 7: Expanding processor for SGMII in IoT Gateway application.

As the IoT market grows, unique challenges arise for manufacturing these smart, connected devices. These primary design challenges include power efficiency, interoperability across different interfaces, and compatibility with new processors. However, solving the most common design problems can be addressed with a programmable logic device, which offers a low cost, small size, and very low power solution ideal for IoT applications.

Helmut Demel is a Staff Field Application Engineer at Lattice Semiconductor in Germany.

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