iCEBreaker V1.0 Crowd Supply Campaign

Hey everyone!

In this topic I would like to keep you up to date with the status of the iCEBreaker FPGA crowd supply campaign.

Do not worry if you don’t want to follow the forum and are afraid if you will miss something by only reading the campaign updates. All the important information will be included in the campaign updates, so you will not miss anything. The topic here is meant as a more in depth and more frequent update channel for those that are interested in the details.

So what happened since the campaign ended? First I needed to catch up on a few things after coming back from Europe, and I think I am mostly caught up now. Second thing I wanted to get done is to set up the wiki and the forum for iCEBreaker. Now that this is done we will finally move on to early bird hardware assembly and part ordering. Although I will also spend time expanding the wiki content and posting things in this forum. I think creating a community and talking about our projects and plans is as important as receiving the hardware.

On the hardware front, we are getting ready to assemble the early bird backer tier of the iCEBreakers. We have the V1.0c revision PCBs that will be used for that tier, and most of the parts. I still have to go through all the parts and make sure I have them all in stock, and if not order the remaining missing parts. Although I always try to keep a very good count on everything there is always a possibility for an error. :wink:

A few of you have requested to wait for V1.0d of the board. If you also want to wait for the updated board please send us an email through the crowd supply page.

I have also sent out quote requests to LED panel manufacturers to finalize the sourcing of the 64x64 P2 LED panels. We are still waiting for the final offers to come in, and we will order them as soon as the campaign money reaches our bank account. These panels will likely take 30 days to arrive at our HQ as they are bulky and have to be sent from China on a container ship.

That would be it for today. Let me know if you have any questions in this thread, and I will try to answer them as well as I can. Also feel free to start your own topic in the forum telling us about the projects you are planning to do. I am sure there will be others that are interested and might have suggestions.

Talk to you soon,
Piotr

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Hey Everyone!

This is the same update as the one that went out to all the backers of the Crowd Supply Campaign. Some of you here might not be subscribed there or might want to comment on things included in the update. So here is a copy of the update. :smiley:

It’s been a while since our last update. Sorry that it took so long. We promise to do better in the future.

Early Bird Tier Part Purchases

The main reason why we haven’t posted an update recently is because we’ve been trying to get as much done as possible before the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebrations. We did manage to get a big chunk of the parts ordered that we needed for the early bird tier production except for the Pmod PCBs. The factories in China had different cut off dates for when their factory would be closed for the holiday and we ran out of time before people left. Now that the holiday is over we’ve started to get shipping notifications for orders that were on hold during that time, so things are moving again!

The Pmod PCBs for the Early Bird tier production have shipped as of February 14th! So we will be getting into production very soon.

LED Panel Issues

As part of the Early Bird tier fulfillment preparations we also ordered LED Panels right before the Chinese New Year. After receiving the panels from China we were met with a surprise. It turned out that the new panels we got not only have different mounting brackets on the back but a fully different chips on the back of the panel. The earlier panels were using ICN2037 shift registers that behave normally and you can just shift data into. The new panels are using FM6126 shift register chips instead.

The new chips require an init sequence that configures and enables the shift registers. If you are interested in the details you can read this amazing issue thread on Henner Zeller’s GitHub.

led-panel-DCHY-P2-644-1515-VP-sch

It took us several days to figure out what exactly was wrong with the panels and what needed to be done. At the end we got them to work thanks to some reversing and the above mentioned GitHub issue. We know how to drive them and we have a working state machine to initialize the panels (Yes we will add the init sequence to tnt rgb_panel design too, don’t worry. If you
get those panels you will be able to run Sled demos on FM6126 panels. :wink: ). That said because the LED Panel kit is meant to be a simple target that you can develop your own HDL for, as a learning experience and exercise, we think we will have to find the older ICN2037 panels that do not require initialization to send out to everyone. We are not comfortable sending these new panels to you as part of the crowdfunding campaign. We will offer the FM6126 panels for purchase through the 1BitSquared website if you want to use them with the existing HDL designs that include the init function or if you are up for a challenge. :smiley:

We are currently still talking with LED Panel suppliers to make sure we get the correct panels with the ICN2037 shift registers. More updates on this coming soon.

Regular Tier Part Purchases

This part is taking way longer than we expected or ever experienced before. On February 14th we finally had a breakthrough with our part reseller, and we are waiting for the part quote to come back. It turns out that Outlook decided to quarantine the emails we were sending them. After a bunch of phone calls we finally figured out what was going on and things are now moving forward.

Not wasting time

While all this logistics stuff was going on we were not wasting any time.

We have developed two new Pmod designs that you will be able to get through our 1BitSquared stores in the future.

Single Pmod RGBI DVI

After looking and playing around with the 3bpp DVI Pmod our friend tnt(Sylvain Munaut) pointed out that it should be possible to easily modify the circuit to support one additional bit that selects a low and high intensity color set for each pixel.

cga-xmas-jingle-disk-screenshot

If you were born sometime in the 80’s or earlier you might remember the CGA graphics system. It was providing 16 colors where 8 were low intensity and 8 were high intensity.

rgbi-cga-color-palette

Our solution is not exactly CGA because we do not have the brown color but just low intensity yellow instead.

rgbi-color-palette

The wiring is pretty simple, where each of the color pins still only drives 3 inputs of the DVI driver chip. We want to limit the amount of pins we have to drive to avoid drive issues at higher screen resolutions and clock speeds.

dvi-4bit-sch

Single Pmod LED Panel Driver

Another idea from Sylvain was to decrease the pin usage on the iCEBreaker when you want to control LED Panels. In collaboration with the good folks in our Gitter Channel we have developed and improved a single Pmod circuit.

To achieve that we needed to save at least 6 signal pins. We were able to do that with two changes.

Firstly, instead of driving the RGB0 and RGB1 signals separately we have added a D-FlipFlop to store one set of RGB data at the falling edge of the input clock. Basically Double Data Rate (DDR) the RGB data to the panels. This saved us 3 pins on the Pmod.

led-panel-single-ddr-sch

Secondly, instead of driving the five Address lines directly, we introduced a ripple counter that only needs a clock and reset signals. This saved us another 3 Pins.

led-panel-single-addr-counter-sch

The changes to the LED Panel drive design on the FPGA should not be very big. But it opens up an extra Pmod on the iCEbreaker to either drive another chain of LED panels or use for some other input or output Pmod!

The prototypes of the Pmods are now on their way to us and we will let you know how things progress. :slight_smile:

Forum is live!

Last but not least we have finally installed and launched an iCEBreaker forum.

Piotr is posting some smaller project updates and what he is working on there to complement his updates on Twitter.

We invite you all to join our forum and ask your questions and exchange knowledge there. If you are one of the lucky ones that already got their hands on an iCEBreaker tell us about your projects and what you’ve built!

That would be it

Again thank you to everyone for your support and patience, we can’t wait to get all the rewards out to everyone!

Thank you to those who backed our campaign and to those that decided to pre-order an iCEbreaker kit after the campaign was over.

We promise we will do our best to keep you up to date more often. We are moving ahead on assembling early bird rewards and will update you when early bird shipping starts.

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Hey Everyone!

Welcome to the March update.

Some delays

As you might know we were hoping to have started shipping the Early Bird tier hardware by now. Unfortunately we are slightly behind schedule and what a month it has been.


First of all we had an unforeseen snow storm here in the Pacific Northwest that resulted in several days without power and almost a week without internet. The snow took down a lot of trees and the city had trouble dealing with all of the damage to get the power back on. But at least we had pretty snowy views out of our office window for several days. We spent some of this time working on getting our taxes ready and when we met with our tax guy he said most people did the same thing and they were swamped with paperwork much sooner than they anticipated.

Early Bird Tier Production

Our Pick and Place machine needed some care and attention. For a PnP machine to function you need compressed air and our compressor started making a horrible loud rattling noise. It was rattling so hard that it started to walk across the floor. We took the compressor in to a local power tool repair shop in the hope that they would be able to fix the issue quickly. After a week at the repair shop they called us to pick it up just to find out that during the repair the guy broke off the drainage spigot for the air tank, it took them another week to order and replace the part. After we got the compressor back to the shop it was running and sounding slightly better but was still not entirely fixed. It was clear something had broken inside the motor that we wouldn’t be able to access. So we ended up ordering a new compressor motor and mounted it ourselves. Now it’s running smoothly and the PnP machine is working again.

We now have a batch of assembled 7 segment LED Panel Pmods, and DIP-Switch Pmods. Piotr was diligently posting updates on every step of the production on Twitter and Instagram.

  • Solder paste application
  • Part placement
  • Reflow
  • Partial panel breakout
  • Hand soldering the through-hole components onto the boards
  • Final PCB breakout
  • Testing each board by hand with an iCEBreaker

You can follow all the progress we made in this thread on twitter.




Next steps will be:

  • iCEBreaker assembly, so that we can start shipping out all the early bird tiers that contain iCEBreakers and 7 Segment LED and DIP-Switch Pmods.
  • HDMI Pmods
  • LED Panel Pmods

Piotr will keep you up to date on the progress through Twitter and Instagram.

LED Panel headaches

As you might remember from the previous update, we ran into some issues with the LED Panels that we ordered for the Early Bird tier fulfillment. They sent us displays with the wrong chip. We placed an order with a manufacturer that is promising to send LED Panels with the correct chip that we have requested. We are now waiting for their shipment to arrive so we can start shipping them out with the Pmods. This is also why we are scheduling the production of the LED Panel Pmods last, as they depend on the LED Panels themselves.

General tier part purchasing

In other news we finally received the correct and final price quotes from our suppliers. We ordered all of the smaller parts and most of the connectors. We are still waiting for a final confirmation to place the really big order that will contain the iCE40 FPGA and the FTDI chips that are the most expensive single parts of the project. We expect to place those orders later this week. Then we will just have to wait for the parts to be manufactured and delivered to us.

USB low level debugging

The open source FPGA and iCEBreaker community is also hard at work creating
interesting content. This time our friend Sylvain Munaut created a new design
for the iCEBreaker for USB debugging. He describes several ways of debugging
USB in a really well put together video that among other things includes a new
solution using the iCEBreaker. Check out the video here:

Conferences

Piotr will be attending and presenting at a few conferences in the coming months. We’re always excited to meet other makers at events and spread the word about open source electronics.

So if you are coming to any or all of these events please make sure to find Piotr and say hello! :smiley:

That’s it for now

We still have a long road in front of us but we are making progress every day. Early bird pledges will be shipping soon. Thank you all for your patience and interest in open source FPGA.

If you have any questions or suggestions make sure to drop by our Gitter channel or start a thread in our Forum. Talk to you soon!

Cheers,
Piotr and Danika

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Hi Everyone!

We have great news! Today we shipped the last of the Early Bird tier rewards! If you ordered only Early Bird items you either got your rewards already or you should be getting a shipping notification very soon.


It took some time to assemble all of the necessary iCEBreakers and different Pmods, test everything, count out all the small parts and bag them and then to carefully pack each person’s pledge. We also had to figure out how to ship all the rewards that contain LED Panels, as they are larger than the hardware we normally ship out.




In the end we decided that the best solution was to get boxes and ship the rewards that way. Shipping the items in boxes ended up being more expensive but we decided it was more important that you get your rewards in good condition. We tried our best to pack everything well.

Since our last major update Piotr went to KiCon and LatchUp.

KiCon happened in Chicago and was the first KiCad PCB design software focused conference. It was a lot of fun, full of very interesting talks and people. Most of the talks are now published for your viewing
pleasure
the most exciting news from the conference was that the project maintainer Wayne Sambaugh will now be hired on to work full time on the project. This is a very big step and shows how KiCad is maturing as a project. We are looking
forward to the results!

Piotr also made a presentation talking about his process and how he is using KiCad to create hardware. His talk was recorded and can also be found on the Contextual Electronics YouTube
channel
.

LatchUp conference in Portland was just one week after KiCon. LatchUp is a US sister conference to European OrConf that is organized by the FOSSi Foundation. This conference focuses on open source digital design, which means open source IP for custom silicon chips as well as FPGA. It was full of interesting talks that you can watch now
too
.

Piotr made a presentation making a case for Open Source FPGA toolchains. You can find the recording of it on the FossiFoundation YouTube Channel.

Since then Piotr was busy assembling and testing all of the remaining Early Bird hardware. We are so happy to have all of the Early Bird hardware completed, tested and finally shipped!

Next steps will be beginning production of the main assembly run. We’ve already received the 7 segment LED displays and dip switch Pmods fully assembled. We decided to order them pre-assembled as they require a lot of through hole soldering. And the quantity was more than we wanted to do by hand. We do not have a wave or selective soldering machine to speed up the process.

As you might remember it took a bit longer than expected to finalize the pricing and ordering of the main production run parts. We were only able to place the order for some of the parts by early April. Ordering parts in bulk to get good pricing means ordering directly from the chip manufacturer. The chip
manufacturers always have quite long lead times. As far as we know the last few parts we need will arrive by the end of June and only then we will be able to start assembling the main production batch of iCEBreakers. This will unfortunately result in a slight delay as to when we will start shipping out
the remaining rewards. We are very sorry about that. We will keep you up to date and will let you know on Twitter as soon as we receive the parts. At least we are getting closer to the main batch assembly and we will have everything ready to go when the last few parts come in.

This month is also Crowd Supply Teardown Conference. If you are in the Portland, Oregon area you should definitely consider getting a ticket. It’s a really good conference with lots of interesting people.

Piotr will be going to Teardown and teaching an FPGA Workshop using the iCEBreakers. The hardware is sponsored by Lattice which is pretty exciting for those that will be able to score a Workshop spot. :smiley:

As a result Piotr will be completing the iCEBreaker Workshop materials. You can look forward to a flurry of activity in the workshop github repository.

One more thing, if you receive your iCEBreaker make sure to let us know you got it and to share your experiences with all of us either through social media or in our forum. We are excited to see what you will build with your new FPGA development board!

For example, check out Bob Miller’s Twitter account, he is building a 3D printed LED Panel cube that uses an iCEBreaker to drive the LED panels. The project is a group effort together with Sylvain Munaut who developed the LED Panel driver IP, George Loakimedes that helped design the cube power board and zzaurak that inspired us all to make LED cubes and is writing a software framework for them. They are all in the iCEBreaker gitter channel too so make sure to drop by and say hi. Bob will be bringing some of his cube prototypes to the Crowd Supply Teardown conference in Portland Oregon so we hope you will be there to check it out in person.

And this is the zzaurak’s cube. He used to drive his cubes directly from the RaspberryPi, now he is using the iCEBreaker to drive the cube panels and uses the native RaspberryPi SPI interface to communicate with the iCEBreaker itself. This increased the refreshrate to a new level making it more stable and less flickery. It is also his first FPGA project!

As part of zzaurak’s port tnt implemented zigzag scanning. This new scanning method reduces artifacts of fast moving high contrast objects. For example vertical lines. Scanning this way reduces the delay of “exposing” two adjecent LED lines. If there is a long delay between the top and bottom half of the LED panel it creates a discontinuity effect between the two. It’s very exciting to follow the development and see the power of the iCEBreaker FPGA community. :slight_smile:

That’s it for this update. See you in the next one.

Cheers,
Piotr and Danika

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Hi Everyone!

tldr;

We have scheduled the rest of July exclusively for board assembly, iCEBreaker, LED Panel PMODs and HDMI Pmods. As soon as we have enough iCEBreakers assembled to fulfill the tiers that don’t contain LED panels we will start sending those out. So a big portion of you should get shipping notifications before the end of this month!

The LED panels are delayed as we keep trying to find a supplier with the quantity we need and the correct driver chips. We will let you all know when we have that problem resolved and when we will receive the LED panels to fulfill the rest of the campaign.


As we described in our last update we were expecting to receive the last parts by the end of June. And the good news is that we did!

We have finally received a big reel of ICE40UP5K FPGA, mems oscillators and SII164 DVI chips for the DVI Pmods. As well as assembled 7segment and dip switch Pmods.

There was one last link to the puzzle missing. We wanted to order the main batch of PCBs last month but we figured that it would be better to test the V1.0d and make sure we don’t need to make any more changes to the board. As we will be making over 1000 of the main batch boards it is a good idea to have as many people comb over the design as possible. We found a few very tiny things that were able to improve. Thanks to the feedback from the community we made the pads of the RGB LED footprint easier to hand solder, and thanks to Arturo who dug deep into our schematic we made the final adjustment to the signal naming of the RGB LED connector to match the FPGA datasheet. The symbol we used was from the ICE5LP5K that was the footprint and pinout predecessor of the ICE40UP5K part and the RGB pins had a different numbering order. Now the schematic and the pcb show the correct naming of the signals. These are all non electrical changes and if you have a previous version of the board it is fully functional and will be working fine with the verilog that you currently have and people will be writing in the future. It just makes things slightly more consistent. We have the V1.0e boards ordered and they are scheduled to arrive on Friday July 12th.



Another thing that we are still working on resolving are the LED Panels that are included in the LED Panel and Everything reward tiers. The sources where we got the LED Panels from originally seem to be only resellers that buy up some excess stock from video wall manufacturers. It turns out that market is incredibly fluid and changes quickly regarding the drive electronics on the back of the panels. When we were preparing the campaign and when we ordered the early bird batch of the panels the LED panels used simple shift registers. Today the most common shift registers on the back of the panels are more “intelligent” and require an initialization sequence. We want to make sure we get panels that are robust and easy to program for an FPGA beginner so we think having a special init sequence for the panels is a no-go for our campaign. We are working together with several suppliers and friends to try to locate a reliable source for the LED panels and we hope we will be able to order enough of them to fulfill the campaign soon. We will definitely let you all know as soon as we finally get a hold of the right source and the panels are on their way to us.

Based on the experiences we gained about the LED panel suppliers we ended up documenting in painstaking detail the circuitry of several LED panels, so that we can request exactly the type of panel that we need for the project. We have posted all the photos and reverse engineered schematics to a github repository. This not only makes it easier for us to communicate with the vendors but will also be very useful for anyone who works with LED panels and wants to understand how they work in detail. If you happen to have LED panels yourself and want to contribute to the repository pull-requests are very much welcome. :slight_smile:

We have scheduled the rest of the month exclusively for board assembly, iCEBreaker, LED Panel PMODs and HDMI Pmods. As soon as we have enough iCEBreakers assembled to fulfill the tiers that don’t contain LED panels we will start sending those out. So a big portion of you should get shipping notifications before the end of this month! :slight_smile:

We are sorry things are taking longer than we originally anticipated. We are doing our best to not only deliver the iCEBreakers to you as fast as we can but also at a high quality standard that we set for ourselves and the campaign. As always follow @esden on twitter and mastodon, he is documenting a lot of the steps involved in the production and testing giving you some good insight into what it takes to make hardware.

Thank you for your support, understanding and patience. If you have more questions do not hesitate to join our Gitter channel and ask. Do not forget that all inquiries that you individually send to us cost us time to process and answer and does contribute to delaying the project overall. It is best if you read our updates, check the Gitter channel and follow @esden on twitter and mastodon. This way we can keep everyone efficiently informed about the projects progress.

Cheers,
Piotr and Danika

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Hi Everyone,

tldr;

Production is going well, we produced 240 iCEBreakers and shipped out 182 main batch orders during the month of July. The LED Panels are now ordered and should ship to us any day now.


Production progress

Production is going well and has been pretty smooth. We did run into one issue during assembly. Piotr used up a reel of green LED, after the reel was empty he started using a new reel that we got for the rest of the production. After assembling 60 iCEBreakers with the new green LED we were ready to test them. To our surprise the LED were ultra bright, way too bright. It turns out we made a mistake when placing the order for the LED and they were 200 mcd (millicandela) at 4 mA instead of 40 mcd at 20 mA.

We were able to remedy the problem by ordering a new reel of different green LED, it only delayed us by three days, but still… Now the boards have less retina burning LEDs and everything is back in business. None of the boards going out to backers will have the bright LEDs. We will continue production and fulfillment, so more and more of you should be getting shipment notifications as we continue packing orders.

We were posting quite a few short clips from iCEBreaker production on Piotr’s twitter. Some people really enjoyed those so Piotr recorded a full iCEBreaker assembly cycle and posted it to YouTube. Enjoy the nice soothing robotic sounds. :slight_smile:

LED Panel situation

As you might remember we had a lot of issues sourcing RGB LED Matrix panels for the main batch fulfillment. We’ve now reverse engineered the schematics of all the panels we got from multiple vendors. All the schematics are now available on GitHub.

After a lot of back and forth with multiple manufacturers we managed to seal a deal with one of them. The supplier is currently producing several hundred of the panels for us and they should be shipping them very soon. As soon as we receive them, we need to validate what we got. We will also test every single panel before we send them out to you. This means we are getting closer to shipping out the rewards that contain LED Panels.

Fulfillment

Besides Early bird rewards, we have now completed fulfilling rewards that contained the following main production batch reward tiers: iCEBreaker, iCEBreaker WTFpga, iCEBreaker LED Panel Driver Kit, iCEBreaker Workshop 10-pack. Next in line are iCEBreaker HDMI Kits, iCEBreaker LED Panel Driver kit with LED Panels and iCEBreaker Everything kits. So things are going forward, we have internally quite an aggressive time plan to fulfill all the remaining rewards, so if everything goes well you should get a shipping confirmation fairly soon. Thank you all for your patience and support, and let us know if you have any questions regarding your reward.

Workshop Materials and Examples

Some of you were asking where you can find the WTFPga workshop materials. The repository with the WTFPga workshop materials are now forked in the iCEBreaker GitHub organization. There is also a separate workshop we developed for CrowdSupply Teardown in July. In that workshop you are developing a stopwatch. To do that workshop you will need two 7segment display Pmods. If you need an extra one you can order them from the 1BitSquared store in the US as well as Germany.

We also keep growing the collection of example projects for the iCEBreaker. We have examples for Verilog, icestudio, migen and nmigen. If you happen to write your own small test cores and would like to share them with other iCEBreaker users we would love to add them to the collection. Just create a pull request on the existing repositories. Same applies to typos or mistakes that you happen to run into.

If you decide to use some other hardware description language to make your first FPGA steps in, we would love to add more example repositories in the iCEBreaker organization. Just let us know we would love to host your examples under the iCEBreaker github organization.

For additional reference, tnt continues creating new IP cores for the iCEBreaker in his ice40-playground repository. This is where you will find his amazing LED panel driver IP that can accept video streams at 30mbit over USB via the FTDI chip and 50mbit over SPI. He hangs out in the iCEBreaker gitter channel so if you have any questions you can drop in and ask him there.

That’s all for this update. We are looking forward to getting the remaining iCEBreaker rewards shipped out and to hear about your FPGA adventures. Talk to you all soon.

Cheers,
Piotr and Danika

Tell us about your FPGA adventures: