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Developing Undergraduate FPGA Curriculum Using Altium Software and Hardware

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Computers in the Laboratory

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.438.1 - 25.438.11



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Paper Authors


Erik A. Mayer Pittsburg State University

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Erik Mayer received his Ph.D. in engineering science at the University of Toledo. His areas of focus are power electronics and embedded systems. He was an instructor at Bowling Green State University, where he worked with the Electric Vehicle Institute and taught courses in digital circuit design, microcontrollers, and renewable energy. In addition, he has worked at Visteon, designing components for hybrid vehicles. He is currently a professor at Pittsburg State University where he teaches courses supporting the embedded systems emphasis in the Electronics Engineering Technology program.

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Developing Undergraduate FPGA Curriculum using Altium Software and HardwareIn this paper, the development and assessment of a field programmable gate array (FPGA)curriculum will be discussed. The FPGA curriculum is being used in a revised advanced digitallogic course. This course serves as one in the newly created embedded systems emphasis area inthe four-year undergraduate Electronics Engineering Technology (EET) program. This class iscurrently being taught, but will be completed by the January 6th deadline for the draft paper. Theproposed assessment will be completed in time to be included.The motivation for the development of the FPGA curriculum was the need for employees to beproficient in FPGAs. This need was assessed by two events. At a meeting of the EET industrialadvisory committee, the need for employees proficient in FPGAs was expressed. In addition, thesoftware company Altium Limited expressed an interest in the EET program developing a FPGAcurriculum.Altium Limited developed an electronic design automation software tool called Altium Designer.Altium Designer unifies the design of printed-circuit boards, the design of FPGAs, andembedded system programming. To further facilitate the development of embedded systems,Altium also created NanoBoards which are reconfigurable hardware development platforms.Hardware description languages (HDLs) are used to configure an FPGA. VHDL and Verilog aremost used today:. The FPGA curriculum initially included both VHDL and Verilog. However,it was found at a meeting of the EET industrial advisory committee that there was a need foremployees who knew VHDL. Thus, the decision was made to focus on VHDL.Working with Altium, a set of lectures and associated labs for the FPGA curriculum were createdusing Altium Designer and the NanoBoard 3000. The lectures and labs were designed to buildoff the skills acquired in previous ones. The lectures and labs cover the following topics:implementing combinatorial and sequential logic circuits using FPGAs, performing simulationand synthesis with VHDL, writing VHDL testbenches, using embedded instruments for testingFPGAs, and configuring and programming soft processors (processors implemented using FPGAlogic). The lectures and labs were used on a trial basis in a graduate engineering technologycourse. This helped identify any modifications required and assessed the difficulties thatstudents might have.The revised undergraduate class is currently being taught. For the undergraduate class, morebackground material on FPGAs and other programmable logic devices was introduced.Additional labs using simulation were developed to stress fundamental concepts that needed tobe reinforced in the graduate class.To assess the effect of the FPGA curriculum on the students’ proficiency with FPGAs, a finalproject will be assigned to students and the students’ capabilities will be assessed using rubrics.The rubrics will assess the students’ ability to select and apply the appropriate knowledge,techniques, skills, and tools to design, test, and improve on their final project. These rubrics willbe aligned with learned capabilities from Criterion 3, Student Outcomes, from ABET’s Criteriafor Accrediting Engineering Technology Programs (2011-2012). The FPGA curriculumassessment can then also be used for evaluation of the EET student outcomes.

Mayer, E. A. (2012, June), Developing Undergraduate FPGA Curriculum Using Altium Software and Hardware Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21196

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