Analysis

Digital Hardware with Xilinx FPGA Technology for Hands-On Learning from NI

20th May 2009
ES Admin
National Instruments has introduced a digital learning device that gives high school, university and vocational students hands-on experience with digital logic and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology. The NI Digital Electronics FPGA Board, which integrates with the NI Educational Laboratory Virtual Instrumentation Suite (NI ELVIS) II and NI ELVIS II+ educational design and prototyping platforms, combines analogue and digital design instruction into one affordable, easy-to-use platform.
When combined with NI ELVIS, this system eliminates the need for multiple sets of instrumentation to teach analogue and digital electronics concepts, thus saving money and space for educational institutions. The new board is a result of the NI collaboration with Xilinx, the world’s largest supplier of programmable logic devices and inventor of FPGA technology, and has already been slated for adoption by Project Lead The Way (PLTW), one of America’s leading providers of pre-engineering and science curricula.

“We are excited to collaborate with NI on this project because this board can be used simultaneously in high schools and in universities,” said Patrick Lysaght, Senior Director of the Xilinx University Program at Xilinx. “Students can learn everything from the basics of electronics all the way to advanced FPGA design with this one affordable board that combines digital logic and circuit design in one unified environment.”

The FPGA-based hardware is designed to be programmed with both the NI LabVIEW graphical programming environment and Xilinx ISE tools. With its adoption by PLTW, the FPGA board will be incorporated into U.S. high school technology curricula, and thousands of students will gain experience that correlates directly to real-world industrial and scientific applications of FPGA programming. The board’s widespread adoption, ease of use and cost-effectiveness make it ideal for engineering education.

“The new logic board based on NI ELVIS will change the way students learn digital logic design at the high school level,” said Tom White, Director of Technology at PLTW. “More than 500 schools use our materials, and we’re thrilled that, with this new product, the many students who learn lower-level introduction to logic now can make quick, natural progress to high-level languages like LabVIEW, which makes learning fun.”

The centrepiece of the NI Digital Electronics FPGA Board is a Xilinx Spartan-3E FPGA, which can be programmed using either NI LabVIEW or the Xilinx ISE webPACK, a free, downloadable software toolkit. Through the NI Developer Zone, educators can view related tutorials and download free curricula written to use with both LabVIEW and Verilog.

Because of its integration with NI ELVIS II and the new NI ELVIS II+ platform, the system provides a full spectrum of instruments with which students can gain experience on building real-world test benches that involve instrumentation. The NI ELVIS platform includes 12 instruments, including a function generator, digital multimeter (DMM) and a 100 MS/s oscilloscope on the newly introduced NI ELVIS II+. Students using the NI Digital Electronics FPGA Board can learn circuit concepts by taking advantage of the NI Multisim circuit design and SPICE simulation platform for SPICE simulation and the NI Multisim Circuit Design Community, an online resource for collaboration and discussion of circuit design topics.

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