For many people, Nutaq is known as being a provider of wireless development platforms. If one looks closely at Nutaq’s product lines, one sees that most of our products are FPGA-based processing cards and I/O interfaces, along with Board Software Development Kits (BSDKs). I admit that many of our products are oriented towards wireless communications – nearly half of the FPGA chip market is concentrated around communication technologies (wireless or wired). However, there are definitely other types of applications that benefit from FPGA technology. Radio astronomy is one of them.
The Dominion Radio Astronomy Observatory (DRAO) is a research facility located southwest of Okanagan Falls, in British Columbia, Canada. Founded in 1960, their main interest is using radio frequencies for space observation (hence the term radio astronomy). The relationship between DRAO and Nutaq started in 2005 when they bought a 192-channel acquisition system. It consisted of 12 Nutaq VHS-ADCs, a legacy FPGA board with 16 ADC channels, similar to our PicoDigitizer 125-Series but based on Virtex-4 instead of Virtex-6 and was used for phased array application prototyping. The DRAO is more than a simple observation center, however. They also design FPGA boards for other research projects, namely the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). For the EVLA telescope project in New Mexico, for example, DRAO designed a large processing card that contained 34 Virtex-4 SX35 FPGAs. Over 50 cards were produced and they remain in-use today.
FPGA cards like these are very project-oriented and difficult to use outside of the scope of their intended project. From this observation a new project took life: the Kermode processing board. While DRAO had excellent expertise in developing FPGA cards, their designs were not modular or product-oriented. This is where Nutaq’s expertise came into play. Very satisfied by their 192-channel acquisition system, they asked us to be part of the Kermode hardware design by providing expertise regarding product modularization. Nutaq also developed all of the necessary support software, providing a BSDK similar to the one we offer to all our customers.
Nutaq’s main goal was to make the Kermode card a powerful, modular, user-friendly FPGA-based processing platform. If you look at the Kermode specifications sheet, you can actually see the Nutaq touch in many ways: an ATCA form factor, FMC expansion sites, Gigabit Ethernet, and Matlab integration.
My goal of this blog post was two-fold. First, to illustrate how Nutaq products can be used in markets other than communications. And second, to remind everyone that Nutaq accelerates your development cycles not only by developing hardware but software as well.