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The Digital Design Industry & ECE Evolve with New Programing Techniques; Verilog and FPGA

By Gabriella McNevin

Video created by Donald Rock (COM ’17 ) and Paloma Parikh (COM ’15)

Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE) organizes the course around fundamental computer aided design techniques, the hardware description language Verilog, and finally introduces lessons on “synthesizing” the Verilog to a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), which is technology similar to a microprocessor but is programmable at the hardware level.

FPGA technology is important because it gives the engineer an opportunity to reprogram and reconfigure the digital design after manufacturing. By using FPGAs, engineers do not have to fabricate a new chip for every design. This allows for rapid prototyping of designs quickly and at a low cost.

Student projects are evaluated on their success in creating an FPGA design of their choosing for their final project. Teaching assistants like Prashant Vaidyanathan mentor the students and provide help with the design tools. For example, in Spring 2014, four students submitted a digital design video game which performed like an improved version of the game Flappy Bird by allowing multiplayer game mode, and cell phone integration via Bluetooth.

A student rendition of the 1993 game Super Bomberman was submitted in Fall 2012. The game included standard functions of Super Bomberman, including display engine, character movement, and graphics. Additionally, the team programmed multi-screen display modes, an operating scoreboard, and character blocking.

Producing a functioning FPGA prototype provides a student experience that is essential in developing an overall, hands on proficiency with the technology. With the support of Prof. Densmore and ECE resources, students can conclude EC551 with skills that have the potential to jump-start their careers.