FPGA-based image processing: Develop embedded systems faster

September 04, 2019 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
FPGA-based image processing: Develop embedded systems faster
The development of image processing software for embedded systems is a time-consuming and costly undertaking. An EU consortium, to which the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, Systems Engineering and Image Evaluation IOSB belongs, has simplified the process. The result of the joint development work is the Tulipp research platform - which is supposed to be 100 times faster than a high-end PC.

What do drones, driver assistance systems and mobile medical diagnostic devices have in common? Right: They very often use image processing components, for example for obstacle detection or pedestrian detection. In the case of mobile X-ray devices, image processing can be used to ensure sufficient image quality even with reduced radiation and thus reduce radiation exposure.

Such applications require small, lightweight, energy-efficient, yet real-time image processing components. Conventional computer architectures with general-purpose processors are not a suitable hardware platform for these requirements. Therefore, embedded systems based on FPGAs are often used. The circuit structure of these logic components can be freely configured via a special type of programming.

Typically, the low-level, hardware-related VHDL language is used for this purpose. The problem here is that most image processing applications are available in higher programming languages such as C/C++, and their transfer to the embedded systems is very laborious. Not only is VHDL very different from other programming languages, but it also needs to be adapted to the respective hardware. Even existing VHDL programs are not transferable to other hardware. The software developers have to start almost from scratch with every new system.

A consortium consisting of eight partners from six countries - including Fraunhofer IOSB in Karlsruhe - has now simplified this procedure considerably as part of the Tulipp project. The result is a development platform consisting of design guidelines, a configurable hardware platform, a real-time operating system that supports multi-core processors, and a programming tool chain. "In addition, a starter kit, which was also developed as part of Tulipp, helps. "With it, such applications can be developed much more quickly and easily. The Tulipp Starter Kit can be used to port C++ programs to FPGA, on which a developer has often worked for several months, within a few weeks," explains Igor Tchouchenkov, group leader at Fraunhofer IOSB.


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