To the sea!

A project that’s been on my ‘to-do’ list for years now is some kind of autonomous, robotic boat platform. Although I have dreams of crossing the atlantic someday, for now my sights are set on something more local. To that end, I’ve started construction on a small nautical rover. I unfortunately don’t actually know much about boats or robotics in general, and my primary tools are the laser cutter at NYCResistor and my trusty Thing-o-matic 3D printer, so my boat is kind of funny looking. Some preliminary tests have been promising so far though!

The 3D-printed propellers work much better than I expected!


More progress!

After a tedious afternoon of soldering, I have the three counters needed for this prototype mounted along with corresponding stepper motors and driver circuits. I still need to add a circuit board to the middle layer to connect the upper and lower layers (to connect the counters to both the card reader and the microcontroller used for sequencing). Anyway, a pic of the (rather awkwardly sized) machine so far:

Progress update on my Cray-1

Despite my lack of website updates, I actually have continued work on my Cray-1 project. In addition to some progress in recovering an operating system for it, I’ll (hopefully) be releasing another hardware update pretty soon. Major new features that seem to be mostly working:

– I/O channels! I actually implemented the I/O channel hardware for the Cray-1. Initially I had just been using memory-mapped hardware for everything, but I’d like to actually use that space for memory in the near future, so I took some time to add real DMA hardware. 12 Input and 12 Output channels (I think they were typically used in pairs as 12 full-duplex I/O channels for connecting devices). As currently implemented, they’re 64-bit I/O ports that can have anything hung off of them. The 64-bit UART the Cray currently uses for I/O, for instance, would be straightforward to connect to a pair of channels.

-New memory controller / arbiter! This goes along with the I/O channels, as I now have 24 I/O channels competing for memory access, in addition to the main memory controller and the Instruction Buffer. For now it’s just a simple priority arbiter, although I intend to make it a round-robin type to make it more useful. I also had to completely mangle the timing of the main CPU memory ‘functional unit’ to support the new arbiter. The performance impact will probably be minimal. Hopefully I can get around to adding a full 4-megaword (32 megabyte) complement of memory to the Cray soon via on-board DRAM.

-New hardware! I retired the Spartan-3E 1600 I had been using (which was too small to support the I/O channel hardware, unfortunately), and moved to a new Spartan-6 LX45t board that Xilinx sent me. This gave me a lot more breathing room for implementing extra features (hopefully including the aforementioned DRAM controller soon), as well as 128MB of on-board DDR3 memory.

-More speed! I’m fortunately much better at RTL design now than when I started this project, so I took some time to look at what the actual critical path was that was holding me back to 33 MHz or so. With a bit of tweaking I’m actually able to get my design to compile for the Spartan-6 at the Cray-1’s original 80 MHz! This is something that had really been nagging me, so I was pretty happy to get that working.

-A new UART! I moved to a new UART from that supports RTS/CTS handshaking, so I can get faster data transfers from my main PC to the Cray-1 (115200 kbps for now – I haven’t tried it any faster).

I probably introduced a whole pile of new bugs with my timing fixes (any DV engineers out there looking for a new hobby?), but I was able to write a simple test program that listens on the serial port and echoes whatever I type back to me (running at 80MHz!!).

Let there be blogging!

For the last couple of years I’ve just been using my website to host pages about my finished projects (which typically means 2-3 updates a year, at the most). I do a fair amount of work that either 1) never goes anywhere, or 2) is kind of ‘follow-up’ work on some of my projects that might be interesting to some people (as it turns out people actually read this site occasionally – thanks all you people who have e-mailed me!). I have no idea if I’ll do this with any more regularity than I normally update my site, but we’ll see. On that note, let there be blogging!