June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Computers in Education
15.1268.1 - 15.1268.10
Toward an Interactive Environment for Embedded Systems Design
In this paper, we propose building an interactive environment for embedded systems design using Nexys2 board from Digilent where a MicroBlaze soft-core processor and a VHDL monitor interface have been configured on the Xilinx Spartan-3E FPGA. This infrastructure allows an easy integration of hardware/software modules and a flexible monitoring for application’s signals-of-interest, which in turn, enables students enrolled in an embedded systems class to interact directly with software and hardware components via monitor interface allowing an interactive debugging for the system-under-development. Moreover, as an implementation of problem based learning in engineering education, the project itself is a practical implementation of an embedded system that aims to walkthrough basic skills needed in embedded systems design.
Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have been used in many embedded applications due to their ever-increasing level of performance, low cost, and re-configurability. For example, FPGAs have been used to accelerate a wide range of applications where the applications’ computation-intensive parts can be implemented in hardware (on FPGA)1-3. Available gate count per FPGA chip has reached numbers that allow for implementation of very complex applications with the ability to implement soft-core processors such as MocroBlaze (from Xilinx)4 and Nios- II (from Altera)5, which in turn form a fertile environment for hardware/software co-design. In general, embedded systems work with limited resources (e.g., memory and power) in a real-time environment by employing a combination of software (SW) and hardware (HW) resources.
During the last couple of decades, industry needs have increased for embedded system engineers who possess both HW design and SW programming skills6,7. Hence, embedded systems design, as a topic, has been recently adopted by universities as one of the undergraduate/graduate courses/majors in the computer engineering area. Students enrolled in these courses are assumed to have a background in programming and hardware design skills using assembly languages, C, and hardware description languages (HDL) such as VHDL. Efforts have been made to define a set of theoretical and practical educational methodologies that help in achieving better outcomes of such courses8-13. In 2005, a workshop for embedded system education was held in conjunction with EMSOFT embedded software conference14. The presented papers discussed three main factors that affect the educational process in the embedded systems field: 1) teaching experience, 2) curricula and contents, and 3) labs and platforms. For example, the importance of enhancing the laboratory environment for improving embedded systems education process is shown in . This work points to the significant role of using current available technologies and tools such as hard/soft-core processors, IP (Intellectual Property) cores, and the EDK (embedded development kit) tool in embedded systems labs. It also shows the importance of transition from using TTL ICs (transistor–transistor-logic integrated circuits) to reconfigurable devices such as FPGA. In  a set of experiments are proposed to enable students to acquire a set of practical skills
Obeidat, F., & Alkhasawneh, R., & Tucker, J., & Klenke, R. (2010, June), Toward An Interactive Environment For Embedded Systems Design Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. https://peer.asee.org/16362
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