Introducing the MKR Vidor 4000

The first Arduino board with an FPGA

Alasdair Allan
2 years agoInternet of Things

After a long hiatus, almost certainly caused by the resolved legal troubles, the pace of hardware development at Arduino has obviously picked up. The two boards released last weekend on Arduino Day have now been joined by yet another pair of boards, unveiled today by the company at Maker Faire Bay Area: the Arduino Uno WiFi Rev 2 and the MKR Vidor 4000.

The new MKR Vidor 4000 has three processors on-board. The main Microchip SAM D21 is accompanied by an Intel Cyclone 10 FPGA, alongside a u-blox NINA-W102— an ESP32-based wireless module—to provide both WiFi and BLE connectivity. The MKR Vidor 4000 also has a Microchip ATECC508A cryptographic co-processer providing hardware-based security, and hardware-based key storage, for connecting your projects to the cloud.

Joining the recently announced MKR WiFi 1010 and MKR NB 1500 and extending the boards with the new ‘standard’ Arduino form factor, the MKR Vidor 4000 is the first board from Arduino to have an FPGA on-board.

Which means that every pin can be configured for functions such as UARTs, (Q)SPI, high-resolution or high-frequency PWM, as a quadrature encoder, for I2C, or I2S, or sigma-delta DAC.

Initially the idea is to run Arduino code on the SAM D21 and use the FPGA as a “super powerful” peripheral that can be reconfigured multiple times.

“We’re going to distribute sketches and libraries which contain a pre-compiled FPGA bitstream which will be automatically uploaded on the FPGA with the micro-controller code. There will be a number of these pre-made configurations available to choose from.”

In fact, this initial configuration sounds awfully like how Alorium Technology have approached their XLR8 boards. However it seems like Arduino wants to move beyond pre-configured FPGA blocks.

“Later in the year we’re going to release a development environment which will let you create different applications on the FPGA by using a visual block language . A user will be able to select different peripheral blocks (or IP blocks) assemble them on the screen (including a processor core if they want to) by pressing a button the visual representation gets translated into Verilog and compiled on our cloud servers and downloaded into the FPGA while a custom version of Arduino is generated on the fly to allow programming the new configuration the user has created.”

Interestingly, it appears that if the user knows how to program FPGAs with Verilog, or VHDL, they can also program the board using their normal FPGA toolchain from Altera/Intel right out of the gate.

In recent months we’ve seen a coming of age of the FPGA with the era of the maker FPGA arriving without much real fanfare, and that renaissance in the FPGA market is mostly being driven by the availability of an open source toolchain for the Lattice FPGA chips.

But with an ‘official’ FPGA-based product from Arduino, which will open up the Intel Cyclone FPGA, we might now well see a change in the way people see FPGAs. This board, and the integration of FPGAs into the standard Arduino toolchain, is going to make them more accessible to makers and allow many more people to take advantage of them — in the same way that integrating the ESP8266 into the Arduino toolchain opened the already growing and popular platform to a much larger audience.

UPDATE: The MKR Vidor 4000 is now available for purchase from the Arduino Store with a price tag of $60 (€49.90) plus taxes and shipping.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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