By Anna Lynn Spitzer
Everardo Camacho works on his smart climate system in the lab
Dream It, Build It, Test It, Commercialize It
Irvine, May 05, 2016 — A new maker lab, one with a high-tech twist, opened on the UC Irvine campus last fall. Combining the latest in integrated circuit technology, a panoply of cutting-edge fabrication and analysis equipment, and a come-one, come-all approach to users, the Microsemi Innovation Lab quickly is becoming known as UCI’s smart technology maker lab.
Backed by leading Orange County semiconductor manufacturer Microsemi Corp., the 1,090-square-foot space on the second floor of the Calit2 Building is an electronics aficionado’s wonderland. Adorned with brightly painted murals and top-notch electronic prototyping equipment, the main attraction is the Microsemi SmartFusion2 chip, a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) integrated circuit that functions like an erector set for electronics designers.
A generous donation from Microsemi launched the lab, which opened to great fanfare last November. It is the latest addition to Calit2’s innovation pipeline, offering a unique, on-campus, one-stop shop for the design, prototyping, testing, characterization and analysis of electronics and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
“UCI has the ideas to solve problems, and our technology will help you turn your IoT ideas into high-performance products,” Microsemi Chief Technology Officer Jim Aralis said at the grand opening ceremony.
Michael Klopfer, CalPlug technical director, serves as acting lab manager. He says a wide variety of users – from undergrads working on senior design projects to graduate students conducting research, to faculty to corporate customers – can utilize the high-speed, high-bandwidth logic analyzers, function generators, oscilloscopes, soldering tools and other printed circuit board fabrication equipment.
“Circuit board prototypes, robotics, control systems, instrumentation and all things IoT – all of these can be produced in the Microsemi Lab,” Klopfer says. “Users are going to be able to prototype, fabricate and test.”
Calit2 Irvine Division Director G.P. Li, who was instrumental in the lab’s creation, compares IoT’s potential to that of the iPhone as an application platform. “IoT is anything you can think about; there are unlimited applications. The Microsemi Lab will provide a place where students, faculty and the community can come in and develop applications,” Li says. “We’re making this infrastructure available for anyone to come and innovate.”
Microsemi is supplying the lab with strategic guidance and products, including the SmartFusion2 – a self-contained system-on-a chip that offers a wide variety of applications. User-constructible on-chip fuzzy logic, digital signal processing and cognitive computing capability allow point-of-deployment intelligence that one day soon may permit advanced user behavior-based control in IoT devices.
The SmartFusion2 also offers advanced security capabilities and cryptography features. The chip automatically self-destructs if somebody tries to reverse engineer a design programmed on it, and every enabled chip has a unique system that employs manufacturing variances in the chip’s construction to generate a unique seed value, which can be used for advanced cryptography.
Other Microsemi products, including advanced digital signal processing and signal analysis tools, integrated circuits, audio processors, tiny full atomic clocks and power electronic components also are expected to be available in the near future to lab users.
In the lab are four types of user-friendly demo boards outfitted with the smart chips, including one made with the same footprint as an Arduino (a common prototyping board). This facilitates fabrication of proof-of-concept devices using Arduino-compatible accessories, only with the added power of the SmartFusion chip. “It’s a launching pad that makes it easy for people to make electronics, by using prototyping systems they are familiar with as a stepping stone,” Klopfer explains.
He collaborated with Microsemi Training Director Tim McCarthy to create a multi-part video series that helps new users get started. “We went through a bunch of lab examples and recorded the whole thing – the set-up, device capabilities, hints and tips, how to avoid potential pitfalls … everything for users to get started with the SmartFusion2 product.”
Even for products that don’t utilize Microsemi products, the lab is open and well-equipped for the building, analysis and characterization of many types of electrical circuits and equipment.
Everardo Camacho created a smart-climate demonstration system using the Microsemi SmartFusion 2 FPGA for the lab’s grand opening last year. The INRF employee, who graduated from UCI in 2014, created an Internet of Things-themed system, which senses and logs room temperature, then sends the data to a server via wired and wireless network communication.
“The system showcased the functionality of the SmartFusion2,” says Camacho, whose eventual goal is to build a cleanroom monitoring system with programmable logic controllers that will monitor and interface with all tools in the INRF cleanrooms. It will have the capability to shut down equipment that doesn’t meet operational specifications, ultimately saving time and money in both processing and repairs. Camacho’s demo project was proof of concept that constructing such a system using Microsemi FPGAs is indeed possible.
“Think of this SmartFusion chip as an erector set,” says Klopfer. “It can be used for different things … to build out new solutions. This chip can do all these different things, depending on how it’s programmed and what kind of board it’s put onto. The FPGA permits one to build a virtually limitless number of circuits inside the chip itself, simplifying many final designs.”
Features of the Microsemi Innovation Lab include: