Matt Venn's ASIC Necklace Gets a Blinky Bling Redesign

Almost everything on this necklace is custom-made, including the chip driving the LEDs.

James Lewis
7 months agoBadges

At hardware conferences, it is common for attendees to show off their design skills with custom-made badges. A super-team took that idea to a whole different level. At Hackaday Superconference 2023, Matt Venn showed off the ASIC Necklace — a significant upgrade from one worn the past couple of years.

For a bit of background, Venn offers an online course called Zero to ASIC. You learn how to design a custom application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and get it fabricated! The core design includes a RISC-V processor and some support hardware blocks. The rest is up to you! To date, 50 of the 330 people who have taken the course have submitted designs.

The centerpiece wafer of this passion project serves as a talking piece about the course and integrated circuits in general. Venn had been wearing a simpler version, which used a comically large (fake) gold chain. The new ASIC Neckless dials the bling up to 11.

The chain received the most extensive upgrade and most attention. It consists of gold anodized CNC-milled links connected with blocks of PCB stacks.

Each stack, or sandwich, has a bottom board with an APA102 RGB LED. These boards also have connectors to pass power and data around the chain. On top is another, acting as a diffuser. The PCBs have a distinctively expensive look with gold-plated traces and matte-black silkscreen.

Venn wanted a striking and meaningful symbol on the surface of the diffuser. He decided on a MOSFET symbol since it succinctly represents the core component of the wafer (and all integrated circuits.)

Adam Zeloof and Pat Deegan worked with Venn on the ambitious project. Zeloof provided much of the CAD design for the custom mechanical pieces. The team based the electronics on a minimally viable ASIC board designed by Deegan.

In addition to looking great, the ASIC Necklace serves as an example project for Zero to ASIC. The RISC V-based microprocessor driving the LED animation is inside a chip that Venn designed. The processor bit-bangs the patterns since that design did not have a dedicated LED driver.

Perhaps the most impressive feat is the ridiculous schedule in which the ASIC Neckless came together. The team ordered parts only 24 days before the Superconference 2023 started! So, Venn, Deegan, and Zeloof were finishing the build on the conference's first night! And, amazingly, it functioned as great as it looked!

Design process for ASIC Neckless (📷: Matt Venn)

Check out this blog post for more information and pictures. You can get the design files from this GitHub repo.

James Lewis
Electronics enthusiast, Bald Engineer, and freelance content creator. AddOhms on YouTube. KN6FGY.
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