The Spartan Edge Accelerator Board (SEA for short) is an FPGA development board with a standout form factor that we all know well: the Arduino shield. But those familiar with FPGAs might ask “Why would I want this? Aren’t Arduinos and FPGAs on the opposite sides of both the complexity and ease-of-use spectrums?”

The SEA can be utilized to function as an Arduino shield or a stand alone FPGA development board. This blend of FPGA and simple microcontroller means that for the simple elements of your design (think blinking LEDs, reading measurements from a PIR sensor, etc.) can be kept simple in their implementation on the Arduino, while the more complex tasks that actually require the power and flexibility of the FPGA can be relegated to it. The hardware on the board includes support for features such as high speed image processing, encrypted internet of things, I/O port extensions, and environmental sensing, such as:

High Speed Image Processing: MIPI/CSI camera interface that supports the Raspberry Pi camera v1.0 (OV5640) and a mini-HDMI capable of 30 frames per second transmission maximum output. 

Encrypted Internet of Things: ESP32 for Wi-Fi & Bluetooth, support for AWS/Azure/other cloud services, software encryption algorithm support.

I/O Port Extensions: 20 user-defined I/O ports in stand alone mode, 10 user-defined I/O ports in Arduino shield mode, and a Grove connector.

Environmental Sensing: 8-bit ADC & DAC, 6-axis accelerometer & gyroscope, 2 RGB LEDs, & 2 push buttons.

There is an Arduino library available for the SEA board that allows an Arduino to control the ADC, DAC, GPIO, and RGB LEDs via the Xilinx Spartan-7 FPGA in Arduino shield mode. And while the ESP32 theoretically could be used as the controlling MCU (the hardware connections are all there), no example designs/firmware currently exist for the this. There is a boot image provided for the ESP32 that allows for the FPGA to be programmed via the ESP32 when in Arduino shield mode.

Because the SEA is equipped with a Xilinx Spartan-7 FPGA, cloud service support, and wireless communication, it can be utilized by Arduino, IoT, and FPGA developers alike. The documentation for the SEA is also very well done. Seeed Studio’s wiki page for the Spartan Edge Accelerator Board includes detailed walk-throughs for using the board in standalone mode and Arduino shield mode, as well as how to control peripherals such as the ADC/DAC, RGB LEDs, and GPIO while in Arduino shield mode. For standalone mode, a really good walk-through of how to create a Vivado project is also provided in this same wiki page. 

Overall, I’m extremely impressed by this little development board and I think anyone interested in FPGA design should pick one up. The documentation makes it very straightforward to get started with and all of the peripherals it contains means that even advanced FPGA developers will find it very useful. The price point at $40 is the last piece that  makes it a no-brainer!

Seeed Studio’s wiki page for the Spartan Edge Accelerator Board:

Standout features: 

  • ESP32 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth coupled with cloud service support
  • Fully compatible Arduino shield headers/interface
  • The number of peripherals packed into such a small board for only $40 USD