The Blog

Cyclone V SOC FPGA Design: Lessons Learned

in Electronic Design Services, FPGA Design Services, Garage, Product Design

Cyclone V Lessons From an Angry Moose

Altera Cyclone 5 Cyclone V Development KitAltera Cyclone V Block Diagram

In 2013, Nuvation designed and built a mechatronic version of the popular mobile game Angry Birds. Keeping with our company’s Canadian heritage, we dubbed the game Angry Moose. A 3D-printed, comically large slingshot is aimed using three linear actuators which set the azimuth, angle and stretch (“anger”). These actuators are controlled by Jaguar motor controllers which take a PWM control signal generated by an FPGA. The player uses an iPad with a custom Angry Moose app to wirelessly send control data to a WiFi router, which relays the control data to the FPGA over wired Ethernet.
Angry Moose Demonstration at Altera SOC Developer Forum in 2015

Arrow Electronics Altera Cyclone V SOC Kit

Arrow Electronics SoCKIT

Since then, Nuvation has been continually updating the FPGA platform with new Altera FPGA parts, adding features and tweaking the game to make it more fun. In 2014 we upgraded the FPGA from a Cyclone III, running an embedded NIOS microcontroller, to a Cyclone V running the latest NIOS II soft-core embedded processor. In October of 2015, we incorporated the Arrow Electronics SoCKIT, which upgraded the FPGA to the Cyclone V SoC and utilized the hard, dual ARM-core processor, which allowed us to do the software development in a Linux environment.

“Altera SoCs integrate an ARM-based hard processor system (HPS) consisting of processor, peripherals, and memory interfaces with the FPGA fabric using a high-bandwidth interconnect backbone.” (text copied from Altera website).

The hardware side of the project involved using the QSys system integration software to instantiate the ARM-based Hard Processor System (HPS), attach the Ethernet controller, import our existing PWM controllers and assign hardware addresses. I then used the Quartus II IDE to build the Verilog top level module and create the pin assignments. Compiling the FPGA took minutes. From there, it was a quick effort to get the development kit to boot Linux using an SD card image provided by As a testament to Altera’s ever-improving tool flow, I did all of this in one afternoon with no prior SoC experience. At this point, the hardware implementation was done. The rest of the project required developing the software driver to communicate with the memory mapped PWM modules. Cyclone V Code Monkey

Not being familiar with driver design in Linux, I fumbled around, looking for similar drivers and trying, unsuccessfully, to pattern match something that would work. The online documentation at Rocket Boards consisted of a few rough tutorials and some community-generated projects with sparse documentation. I felt disappointed that documentation for SoC design was largely left up to the community and wished more had been done to provide developers with example projects. One developer was able to put together a driver that worked, but in his words, wasn’t pretty. Nevertheless, at this point our Angry Moose demo was able to receive commands over Ethernet using a simple web server and parse the commands in order to direct the PWM modules and move the actuators.

We debuted the improved Angry Moose game at Altera’s ASDF (Altera SoC Developer’s Forum), where it was a smash hit.

Angry Moose Logo Graphic

We are Exhibiting – 2016 ESA Annual Conference and Expo!

in Battery Management System


Nuvation Engineering is happy to be exhibiting at the Energy Storage Association 26th Annual Conference and Expo in Charlotte on April 25 – 27! You can find us in the Charlotte Convention Center Expo Hall at Booth # 329! We hope you can join us as we showcase a live demonstration of Nuvation BMS™, our MESA-compliant off-the-shelf battery management system designed specifically for grid energy storage.  Register and find more information about the free expo hall pass

If you would like to set up an appointment with one of our senior executives on site at ESA to learn more about Nuvation BMS™ please contact us at nuvationbms [at]

Measuring 1MWh in Lemon Batteries

in Battery Management System

Helping the average person understand the energy stored by a 1MWh energy storage system can sometime involve making some pretty interesting comparisons. Where more commonly one might see something like “it will power X amount of average households for X amount of hours,” we recently came across a comparison of “the equivalent of over 2 million iPhone batteries” that sent our BMS engineering team  trying to out-do each other in frivolous comparisons of dubious value.

We are pleased to share the winner here with you today, complete with cited sources for accuracy:

1MWh = 1.39 billion lemon batteries


A  1MWh energy storage system outputs the equivalent power of 1.39 billion lemon batteries

To put more fun math behind that…

• A lemon weighs, on average, 4 ounces (or 4 lemons weigh 1 pound).
• The US produced 23 million boxes of lemons in 2010-2011 crop year. There are 80 lemons in each box.

• 80×23,000,000=1.84 billion lemons produced each year (enough for 1 and a bit 1MWh ESS systems)
• 1,390,000,000×0.25= 347,500,000 lbs, or 173,750 tons (a 40’ ISO container maximum load is 28.88 tons, so this is 6,017 shipping containers full of lemon batteries)

It would be a huge burden on the US citrus economy as well as a huge site installation to build a 1MWh lemon-battery ESS. Not to mention this ESS is “recharged” organically by replacing the lemons from lemon trees that use the depleted lemons in their compost to grow more lemons.

But you know the saying, “When life gives you 1.39 billion lemons, you make a 1MWh ESS”

Designing a Health Monitoring Device

in Electronic Design Services, Product Design, Production

Case_Study_Health_Monitoring_Device_Banner_600pxAn Inside Look at Product Redesign

A Nuvation Engineering client in the tele-health industry was seeking assistance upgrading a health monitoring device used by patients who are managing their care at home. The device collects data from various personal health monitoring devices (PHM) and uploads it to a central monitoring station manned by live agents. The client was primarily a health monitoring services provider and developing electronic devices was not their core business.

They needed the assistance of an engineering firm that could:

  • Work with an RFP that was based on functional requirements and not complex technical specifications
  • Provide up-front visibility of the entire project effort and costs from initial design to market-ready product
  • Possess the diverse skill sets needed to execute both software and hardware development
  • Manage all the complexities of medical and electronic device product testing and regulatory certification
  • Manage the project until ready-to-ship products were rolling off the production line
Personal Health Monitoring Device Network

The new device would collect health information via USB and Bluetooth from multiple PHM devices simultaneously and upload this data to the cloud. Home-based patients’ heath would be monitored at a central monitoring station by live agents who would send help in an emergency.

The current device was several years old and some components had reached parts obsolescence. The device could also only support a single PHM device and needed to support multiple devices simultaneously. Support also needed to be added for newer communication technologies since the device was currently limited to plain old telephone service (POTS) as the only mode of data transfer to the cloud. Read More

An Angry Moose in Silicon Valley

in FPGA Design Services, Garage, Product Design

Nuvation Ports Angry Moose to a Cyclone V FPGA

Angry Moose is Nuvation’s Canadian version of Angry Birds, but we chose the real world instead of a video game as the best place to play – with a real catapult, and real animals (okay, real stuffed toy animals). Instead of tossing birds into blocks, we catapult beavers (what else eh?) through beer cans to knock down the forest critters who stole our Moose’s beer (which made him angry…). We 3D-printed the catapult, created an iPad GUI, and run the catapult’s motor controls with an Altera Cyclone V SoC FPGA.

This Fall Nuvation brought Angry Moose to the Altera SoC FPGA Developer Forum (ASDF) in Santa Clara, CA. Check out this video of Nuvation CEO Michael Worry explaining Angry Moose while some people play the game.

Angry Moose LogoAngry Moose Live Demonstration Video Read More

Best Practices for Internet of Things (IoT) Designs

in Electronic Design Services, Product Design

For Internet of Things (IoT) sensor networks, Nuvation offers a comprehensive suite of engineering services ranging from architecture design to product development and manufacturing. When designing these solutions, there are some common design challenges that we’ve come across:

Water Leak Detection System

Nuvation designed an ultra-low noise, high-sensitivity acoustic monitoring sensor inside a low power and small form factor design for a Water Leak Detection System.

  • Low-power design / longer battery life – As IoT infrastructure becomes ubiquitous many use-cases require designing and building low power, low bandwidth, and small form factor IoT sensors and networks. Customers frequently challenge us to deliver longer battery life in ever smaller form factors, with lower volume manufacturing unit costs.
  • Low noise thresholds in small form factors – Many advanced sensors require a low or ultra-low noise floor. This creates an interesting challenge since traditional low noise design approaches cannot be used in a design with requirements for both low-power and a small form-factor. As the power consumption is reduced and the circuit impedance rises, the amount of noise generated thermally in the system increases.
  • Low cost/low power wireless communication – When dealing with multiple sensors in an industrial installation, cost per sensor is a key factor in sensor design. Wi-Fi is often rejected as it is not only expensive per sensor but also not suitable for large facilities with potential radio-interfering obstacles like multiple floors, concrete, and steel beams. Cellular is cost prohibitive due to the high fixed cellular modem costs plus high variable monthly cellular subscription costs with a cellular carrier.  Bluetooth often doesn’t meet range requirements. Besides the cost considerations, the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band is a power hungry and congested band of spectrum that is sensitive to interference from other systems and emissions.

Solving these challenges has required some innovative thinking. What we’ve learned along the way has made its way into our handbook of best practices.

Here are some best practices we have learned with respect to:

  • Low-power design / longer battery life
  • Low noise thresholds in small form factors
  • Low cost/low power wireless communication

Read More

Keggy the Autonomous Beer Keg

in Autonomous Vehicles, Battery Management System, Electric Vehicles, Electronic Design Services, Power Supply Design, Product Design

Nuvation is building an autonomous beer serving kegerator robot, because we like having great conversations at parties without the constant interruption of going to get a refill. When this after-hours engineering design project is complete, you will be able to wave “Keggy” over and pour yourself a beer from your choice from two on-board half-kegs.

Autonomous Kegerator Concept Drawing

Note Nuvation BMS prominently displayed on the front, just underneath the Microsoft Xbox Kinect One and LCD screen. We’ll have two 5G tanks of beer on board. 6kwhr battery. 12HP of motors. The battery is over-sized for the application – 6kwhr is a quarter of a Nissan Leaf battery and will drive a car 70 miles with the A/C on.

Read More

Wearable Personal Assault Deterrent

in Community, Electronic Design Services, Manufacturing, News, Product Design, Production, Video

Nuvation Engineering has been working with Tiger Eye Sensor to deliver a wearable security sensor that will help deter assaults and bring perpetrators to justice. The product is targeted to individuals who need to be in situations where they could be a potential target for criminals. Examples of potential scenarios include being out alone at night or in places where there are not many people nearby. Nuvation is very proud to be a part of this electronic product development project because of its potential to help make people safer in their communities.

One of the most sophisticated devices ever to enter the burgeoning personal security marketplace, TESS is a small, hands-free, wearable personal security device that activates when the wearer calls out for help, connecting with a live operator who warns the perpetrator to leave the scene and summons police to the user’s GPS location. At the same time, TESS illuminates the area and begins recording events to help identify and prosecute an assailant through photographic images and audio recordings which are sent to the cloud.

“TESS addresses a potential multi-billion dollar market and its production is being driven by a phenomenal and passionate executive team,” said Michael Worry, Nuvation CEO.

Worry explained that his excitement at helping to bring TESS to market goes beyond the financial opportunity. “As an engineer and father of two daughters, I think we have a duty to use technology to protect our families and gather evidence against those who think they can get away with illegal and immoral crimes,” he said.

Press Links:

Atmel “Tech on Tour” Big Rig Visits Waterloo

in Community, Electronic Design Services, Garage, Manufacturing, News, Product Design

Invitation to Waterloo Innovators

Tuesday May 26, 2015 9:00am-11:00am

Parking Lot of the Flying Dog Restaurant / Pearl Nightclub

341 Marsland Drive, Waterloo, Ontario

Atmel Tech Tour Big Rig Truck

Atmel is parking their “Tech on Tour Big Rig” across the street from Nuvation Engineering (our parking lot wasn’t big enough, this thing is huge!) on Tuesday May 26. Drop by to see their transformer truck and to check out next-generation tech powered by Atmel chips!Atmel_Big_Rig_Interior

Demos in the rig will include a Smart Watch, GPS Watch, Hand Drill, Wireless Gaming Headset, 3D Printer, IoT Thermostat, Wireless Keyboard...

Technology innovators who want to see the latest and coolest electronic inventions driven by Atmel products, talk about tech with fellow engineers, and get design ideas for their next killer-device are invited to drop by for this catered and caffeinated event. Read More

“Autobox” Hardware Testing Tool

in Electronic Design Services, Garage, Production

A Flexible, Scriptable Hardware Testing Platform

Have you ever needed to power cycle your hardware remotely? Have you ever wanted to read several different voltage levels remotely? Do you want the ability to remotely control AC outlets? How about toggling events using GPIO remotely? Do you want to talk to a device via I2C remotely? By now you probably guessed that the “you” I am talking to is a fellow electronic engineer; challenges like these are the sorts of things that keep us awake nights! Tired of all those sleepless nights, and unable to find a truly versatile off-the-shelf solution, I created The “Autobox” in my home lab. It currently provides all of this functionality…with more to come!

“Autobox,” which I’m pleased to say now has a home at Nuvation’s hardware testing lab, is used to aid in software development, automated testing, and hardware bring up. It is remotely configured and operated using either a Linux shell or an HTML interface and has proven itself to be a powerful development tool.

Side of box, I/O: Fused A/C Power Input. Click to Enlarge

Autobox runs Linux on a Raspberry Pi single board computer and has two “Microchip MCP3424” ADCs installed, which provide a total of 8 channels of up to 18-bit resolution. This is especially convenient when data logging, checking on power-rails, etc. It also has 8 buffered GPIO’s which aid in controlling external events, and has two independently fused AC buses . Each AC bus powers four AC outlets which are independently controlled by “OMRON G8P-1A2T-F-DC12” relays. Read More