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May 21, 2024

The Power of FPGAs: Unleashing Real-Time Performance for Modeling, Simulation, and Testing

Pompano Beach, FL

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the demand for real-time computing solutions has skyrocketed. From automotive design to aerospace engineering, the ability to accurately model, simulate, and test complex systems is paramount. Enter Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), a powerful hardware solution that is revolutionizing the way we approach real-time applications. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the realm of FPGAs, exploring their advantages, applications, and a real-world example that showcases their remarkable capabilities.

Understanding Real-Time Systems

Before we dive into the world of FPGAs, it’s essential to grasp the concept of real-time systems. The real-time spectrum encompasses various levels of responsiveness in computing systems, ranging from non-real-time systems, where timing is flexible, to hard real-time systems, where even a fraction of a second delay could lead to catastrophic consequences.

Hard real-time systems are the backbone of mission-critical applications, such as aircraft control systems, medical devices, and automotive safety systems. In these domains, timing is absolutely crucial for proper operation and safety. Failure to meet strict timing requirements could result in system failure or endanger lives.

Modeling, Simulation, and Testing: The Backbone of System Development

In the realm of real-time systems, modeling, simulation, and testing play a pivotal role. Modeling involves creating mathematical representations of real-world systems or phenomena, while simulation involves running these models under various conditions to observe and analyze their behavior. Testing, on the other hand, validates the accuracy and reliability of both the models and the simulations by comparing their predictions to real- world data or experimental results.

The mantra in this domain is “test early and test often” to reduce risk in later stages of the development cycle and accurately represent, analyze, predict, and validate system behavior. Real-time modeling, simulation, and testing offer a cost-effective and resource-efficient approach to system development and validation by leveraging computational resources and virtual environments.

The Advantages of FPGAs in Real-Time Applications

FPGAs excel in real-time applications due to their inherent architecture and capabilities. Unlike traditional CPUs or GPUs, which may experience fluctuations in execution time, FPGAs offer deterministic behavior by virtue of their fixed hardware configuration. This predictability is invaluable in safety-critical applications, where deviations in processing times could have severe consequences.

FPGAs can implement custom circuits tailored for specific applications or models, especially those that can benefit from parallelism. By laying out parallel paths through the circuit, FPGAs can achieve nanosecond response times, making them well-suited for low- latency and deterministic processing.

One of the key advantages of FPGAs is their flexibility. Unlike Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which are designed for a specific purpose and cannot be modified once manufactured, FPGAs can be reprogrammed to adapt to changing requirements. This flexibility is particularly beneficial in the rapidly evolving world of technology, where new algorithms and models are constantly being developed.

Real-World Example: Concurrent Real-Time, Altera, and FPGAs

To illustrate the power of FPGAs in real-time applications, let’s explore a real-world example from Concurrent Real-Time, a company specializing in real-time solutions for modeling, simulation, and testing, and their partnership with Altera, a leading provider of programmable logic solutions (now part of Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group).

The Altera Advantage

Altera has been at the forefront of unleashing FPGA advancements, delivering innovative solutions that have revolutionized the industry. From bringing the first programmable logic device to the market to introducing FPGAs with 116 Gbps transceivers and chiplet design, Altera has consistently pushed the boundaries of what’s possible.

With a mission to deliver market-leading programmable logic devices that are easy to design and deploy, Altera has partnered with companies like Concurrent Real-Time to address and advance businesses across various industries. As advanced technologies like artificial intelligence continue to evolve, companies are increasingly turning to FPGAs for their flexibility, allowing hardware to be customized and reprogrammed as technology progresses.

Altera’s comprehensive product portfolio, spanning high-end, high-performance silicon to mid-range and cost-optimized solutions, provides a robust ecosystem for real-time applications. This ecosystem includes software and IP development tools, such as the Quartus compiler, AI Suite, P4, DSP Builder, and the open-source OpenFPGA stack, which facilitate fast and simple deployment of Altera’s hardware.

Moreover, Altera’s commitment to long-term support and a strong ecosystem ensure that customers can leverage their FPGA solutions for extended periods, minimizing the need for frequent upgrades and maximizing their investment.

The Concurrent Real-Time and Altera Partnership

The partnership between Concurrent Real-Time and Altera yields powerful synergies, particularly for industries that require real-time, high-throughput, and deterministic solutions, such as finance, aerospace and defense, automotive, and telecommunications. Concurrent Real-Time’s focus on real-time solutions using the RedHawk Linux real-time operating system and other ecosystems makes them an ideal real-time FPGA partner.

Together, Concurrent Real-Time and Altera have demonstrated significant success in delivering Altera-based FPGAs and Concurrent boards to aerospace and defense OEMs for testing and integrating launch systems, as well as hardware-in-the-loop test systems for automotive applications, including in-vehicle systems for autonomous vehicles and racing cars.

Summary of the benefits for users of the Concurrent Real-Time & Altera partnership.

Altera’s FPGAs, with their flexibility and parallel programmability, are ideal for real-time applications. Concurrent Real-Time’s IP and easy-to-use software framework, combined with Altera’s hardware and components, maximize efficiency and performance. This partnership enables the delivery of tailored, custom solutions for specific industries, ensuring customers can leverage the flexibility of software and the power of hardware to meet their real-time application needs.

In the hybrid vehicle example, the team can leverage models for PWM (Pulse Width Modulation), crank and cam wheel speed sensors, LVDT (Linear Variable Differential Transformer) and RVDT (Rotary Variable Differential Transformer) sensors, motor models, inverter models, and field-oriented controllers, among others. These models can be seamlessly integrated into the FPGA firmware, enabling real-time simulation and testing of the vehicle’s components and subsystems.

Overview of the FPGA WorkBench Architecture between the Windows/Linux client and the RedHawk Linux RTOS Host.

The FPGA Workbench software, with its intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), allows non- FPGA engineers to easily create, configure, and program the FPGA firmware by dragging and dropping library blocks onto a canvas. This user-friendly approach breaks down barriers and empowers a broader range of engineers to leverage the power of FPGAs in their real-time applications.

Once the firmware is created, it can be compiled and flashed onto the FPGA board, which is integrated into Concurrent Real-Time’s real-time computer systems running the RedHawk Linux real-time operating system. The Simulation Workbench GUI then provides access and control over the FPGA models, allowing real-time tuning and monitoring of parameters.

Concurrent Real-Time’s latest FPGA card allows for expansion of I/O through modular daughter cards, insertable as shown.

Through this integrated solution, the team can simulate and test the hybrid vehicle’s components under various real-time conditions, ensuring accurate representation and validation of system behavior before moving to more advanced testing stages, such as Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) and Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulations.

The Future of FPGAs in Real-Time Applications

As technology continues to evolve, the demand for real-time computing solutions will only increase. FPGAs, with their deterministic behavior, low latency, and flexibility, are poised to play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges of tomorrow.

One area where FPGAs are expected to make significant contributions is in the realm of artificial intelligence and machine learning. With their ability to implement custom hardware architectures optimized for specific algorithms, FPGAs can offer unparalleled performance and efficiency in applications such as real-time object detection, autonomous driving, and predictive maintenance.

Additionally, the integration of FPGAs with other processing units, such as CPUs and GPUs, holds immense potential for creating heterogeneous computing platforms tailored for specific real-time applications. By leveraging the strengths of each architecture, these hybrid systems can deliver unparalleled performance while meeting the stringent timing requirements of real-time systems.

Conclusion

In the realm of real-time modeling, simulation, and testing, FPGAs have emerged as a game-changing technology, offering unparalleled flexibility, deterministic behavior, and low-latency processing. Through the powerful partnership between Concurrent Real-Time and Altera, engineers can harness the capabilities of FPGAs to create advanced real-time solutions that push the boundaries of innovation.

Whether designing the next generation of hybrid vehicles, developing mission-critical aerospace systems, or exploring cutting-edge applications in artificial intelligence, FPGAs are poised to play a crucial role in enabling real-time performance and ensuring the safety and reliability of tomorrow’s technologies.


About Concurrent Real-Time

Concurrent Real-Time is a leading provider of high-performance real-time computer systems, solutions and software for commercial and government markets worldwide. The Company’s RedHawk™ Linux® solutions deliver hard real-time performance for the most sophisticated X-in-the-Loop simulation, high-speed data acquisition, process control and low-latency transaction processing applications. Through support of NVIDIA® Jetson™ platforms, RedHawk Linux is also ideally suited for complex real-time CUDA® applications.

With over 55 years of real-time expertise, Concurrent Real-Time‘s solutions enable customers to gain the competitive edge and reduce costs by accelerating innovation and reducing time-to-market. Headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL, the Company provide sales and support from offices throughout North America, Europe and Asia, and is part of HBK’s Virtual Test Division.

Learn more about Concurrent Real-Time

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