One of the major costs and inhibitors to practical robotics research is the time invested in design, implementation, integration, adjusting and debugging of the embedded control systems, that implement the discrete event control in experimental robots and robot systems. Usually researchers can choose between very highly integrated customized controllers, that carry a very high cost in man-hours; or instrumentation through standardized modular controllers that offer less flexibility and integration. The two traditional approaches are typically represented by the wide-spread polarity between high-level (software) experts, and low-level (hardware) experts, experienced in most R&D organizations. Advances in reconfigurable electronics, like Field Programmable Gate Arrays – FPGAs, have opened a third option, where the flexibility, modularity and re-use associated with software, is combined with the compactness and integration associated with customized hardware. In this paper we present an FPGA based architecture and a framework of template modules for modular embedded control that has: • Dramatically reduced the time we spend on instrumentation of experimental robots. • Increased the quality, flexibility and integration of embedded solutions. • Reduced the gap between high- and low-level system experts.
International Journal of Discrete Event Control Systems, 2010