Pretty much every embedded system / FPGA design has to interface to the real world through sensors or external interfaces. Some systems require large volumes of data to be moved around very quickly, in which case high-speed communications interfaces like PCI-X, Giga Bit Ethernet, USB, Fire/ SpaceWire, or those featuring multi-gigabit transceivers may be employed.

However, many embedded systems also need to interface to slower interfaces for sensors, memories and other peripherals these systems can employ one or more of the simpler communications protocols. The four simplest, and therefore most commonly used, protocols are as follows.

  • UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter): This comprises a number of standards defined by the Electronic Industry Association (EIA), the most popular being the RS-232, RS-422, and RS-485 interfaces. These standards are often used for inter-module communication (that is, the transfer of data and supervisory control between different modules forming the system) as opposed to between the FPGA and peripherals on the same board, although I am sure there are plenty of applications that do this also. These standards defined are a mixture of point-to-point and multi-drop buses.
  • SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface): This is a full-duplex, serial, four-wire interface that was originally developed by Motorola, but which has developed into a de facto standard. This standard is commonly used for intra-module communication (that is, transferring data between peripherals and the FPGA within the same system module). Often used for memory devices, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), CODECs, and MultiMediaCard (MMC) and Secure Digital (SD) memory cards, the system architecture of this interface consists of a single master device and multiple slave devices.
  • I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit): This is a multi-master, two-wire serial bus that was developed by Phillips in the early 1980s with a similar purpose as SPI. Due to the two-wire nature of this interface, communications are only possible in half-duplex mode.
  • Parallel: Perhaps the simplest method of transferring data between an FPGA and an on-board peripheral, this supports half-duplex communications between the master and the slave. Depending upon the width of data to be transferred, coupled with the addressable range, a parallel interface may be small and simple or large and complex.

The arty board provides four PMOD outputs (JA through JD) along with the Arduino / ChipKit shield connector through which we can interface with peripherals using these interfaces. Over the next few weeks I am going to interface the PModDA4 (SPI) and the PModAD2 (I2C) to the MicroBlaze System that we have created.

The first step is to generate the hardware build within Vivado such that we can interface to the PMODs. We can add in a AXI SPI controller from the IP library and configure it to be a standard SPI driver and not a dual or quad (more on those in future blogs). We can also add in the AXI IIC (remember to search for iic not i2c) controller module and connect it up to the AXI bus, do not forget to add both interrupts to the interrupt controller.



Once both controllers are within the design the next step is to customise for application at hand, with these complete we can assign the i2c and SPI pins to the correct external ports for the PMOD desired.

All that remains then is to build the hardware and write the software, it sounds so easy when we say it quickly.