Twelve student and industry teams competed for 30 straight hours in the Xilinx Hackathon 2017 competition over the weekend at the Summit Retreat Center in the Xilinx corporate facility located in Longmont, Colorado. Each team member received a Digilent PYNQ-Z1 dev board, which is based on a Xilinx Zynq Z-7020 SoC, and then used their fertile imaginations to conceive of and develop working code for an application using the open-source, Python-based PYNQ development environment, which is based on self-documenting Jupyter Notebooks. The online electronics and maker retailer Sparkfun, located just down the street from the Xilinx facility in Longmont, supplied boxes of compatible peripheral boards with sensors and motor controllers to spur the team members’ imaginations. Several of the teams came from local universities including the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. At the end of the competition, eleven of the teams presented their results using their Jupyter Notebooks. Then came the prizes.
For the most part, team members had never used the PYNQ-Z1 boards and were not familiar with using programmable logic. In part, that was the intent of the Hackathon—to connect teams of inexperienced developers with appropriate programming tools and see what develops. That’s also the reason that Xilinx developed PYNQ: so that software developers and students could take advantage of the improved embedded performance made possible by the Zynq SoC’s programmable hardware without having to use ASIC-style (HDL) design tools to design hardware (unless they want to do so, of course).
Here are the projects developed by the teams, in the order presented during the final hour of the Hackathon (links go straight to the teams’ Github repositories with their Jupyter notebooks that document the projects with explanations and “working” code):
Team “from timemachine import timetravel” developed a sine wave generator with a PYNQ-callable frequency modulator and an audio spectrum analyzer. Time permitted the team to develop a couple of different versions of the spectrum analyzer but not enough time to link the generator and analyzer together.
Team “John Cena” developed a voice-controlled mobile robot. An application on a PC captured the WAV file for a spoken command sequence and this file was then wirelessly transmitted to the mobile robot, which interpreted commands and executed them.
Team John Cena’s Voice-Controlled Mobile Robot
Inspired by the recent Nobel Physics prize given to the 3-person team that architected the LIGO gravity-wave observatories, Team “Daedalus” developed a Hackathon entry called “Sonic LIGO”—a sound localizer that takes audio captured by multiple microphones, uses time correlation to filter audio noise from the sounds of interest, and then triangulates the location of the sound using its phase derived from each microphone. Examples of sound events the team wanted to locate included hand claps and gun shots. The team planned to use its members’ three PYNQ-Z1 boards for the triangulation.
Team “Questionable” from the Colorado School of Mines developed an automated parking lot assistant to aid students looking for a parking space near the university. The design uses two motion detectors to detect cars passing through each lot’s entrances and exits. Timing between the two sensors determines whether the car is entering or leaving the lot. The team calls their application PARQYNG and produced a YouTube video to explain the idea:
Team “Snapback” developed a Webcam-equipped cap that captures happy moments by recognizing smiling faces and using that recognition to trigger the capture of a short video clip, which is then wirelessly uploaded to the cloud for later viewing. This application was inspired by the oncoming memory loss of one of the team members’ grandmother.
Team “Trimble” from Trimble, Inc. developed a sophisticated photogrammetric application for determining position using photogrammetry techniques. The design uses the Zynq SoC’s programmable logic to accelerate the calculations.
Team “Codeing Crazy” developed an “air keyboard” (it’s like a working air guitar but it’s a keyboard) using OpenCV to recognize the image of a hand in space, locate the recognized object in a space that’s predefined as a keyboard, and then playing the appropriate note.
Team “Joy of Pink” from CU Boulder developed a real-time emoji generator that recognizes facial expressions in an image, interprets the emotion shown on the subject’s face by sending the image to Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure Emotion API, and then substituting the appropriate emoji in the image.
Team “Joy of Pink” developed an emoji generator based on facial interpretation on Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure Emotion API
Team “Harsh Constraints” plunged headlong into a Verilog-based project to develop a 144MHz LVDS Cameralink interface to a thermal camera. It was a very ambitious venture for a team that had never before used Verilog.
Team “Caffeine” developed a tone-controlled robot using audio filters instantiated in the Zynq SoC’s programmable logic to decode four audio tones which then control robot motion. Here’s a block diagram:
Team Caffeine’s Audio Fiend Tone-Based Robotic Controller
Team “Lynx” developed a face-recognition system that stores faces in the cloud in a spreadsheet on a Google drive based on whether or not the system has seen that face before. The system uses Haar-Cascade detection written in OpenCV.
After the presentations, the judges deliberated for a few minutes using multiple predefined criteria and then awarded the following prizes:
The “Murphy’s Law” prize for dealing with insurmountable circumstances went to Team Harsh Constraints.
The “Best Use of Programmable Logic” prize went to Team Caffeine.
The “Runner Up” prize went to Team Snapback.
The “Grand Prize” went to Team Questionable.
Congratulations to the winners and to all of the teams who spent 30 hours with each other in a large room in Colorado to experience the joy of hacking code to tackle some tough problems. (A follow-up blog will include a photographic record of the event so that you can see what it was like.)