Send in your ideas. Deadline June 1, 2024
More info available :
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2021-02
End: 2022-10
More projects like this


A modular open hardware FPGA platform

Embedded systems are everywhere, including in trusted environments. But what is really inside them? ULX3M is a modular version of the popular open hardware project ULX3S. ULX3M delivers a versatile programmable (FPGA) modular mainboard that can be used a wide choice of peripherals. The main board is "vendor neutral" and can be used with different FPGA vendors daughter boards. As the community continues to grow, lots of FPGA modules are written, and one goal of our boards would be that we can easily switch and check other vendor chips, and work more on vendor neutral code where possible. The project also improves SERDES availability. Some cheaper FPGA chips do not have lots of SERDES lines and when someone makes a board it needs to choose what peripheral will be using those SERDES lines. A daughter board that can be rotated in any position will allow more flexible usage. In that way, cheaper FPGA could be used to write all the code. With an open source design, users are not dependent on anyone to make boards and can run independent production.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Consumers and businesses overpay for computer hardware, because the market is not working well. When you go to a store to buy a laptop or mobile phone, you may see different brands on the outside but choice in terms of what is inside the box (in particular the most expensive component, the processor technology) is pretty much limited to the same core technologies and large vendors that have been in the market for decades. This has a much bigger effect on the users than just the hefty price tag of the hardware, because the technologies at that level impact all other technologies and insecurity at that level break security across the board.

In the field of software, open source has already become the default option in the market for any new setup. In hardware, the situation is different. Users - even very big users such as governments - have very little control over the actual hardware security of the technology they critically depend on every day. Security experts continue to uncover major security issues, and users are rightly concerned about the security of their private data as well as the continuity of their operations. But in a locked-down market there is little anyone can do, because the lack of alternatives. European companies are locked out of the possibility to contribute solutions and start new businesses that can change the status quo.

Fortunately there are efforts underway to make hardware that, like open source software, is free to be reimagined and reassembled without restriction. Hardware that is transparently created, from the design up to the actual physical creation. As these projects grow and connect, they can lay the foundations for a technological commons of trustworthy hardware that is accessible for everyone to learn from and build upon.

This project develops development tools to make it easier to work with field-programmable gate arrays, or FPGA's. FPGA's are chips that can be customized for a specific task ('programmable in the field') for image processing in digital cameras, portable electronics in smartphones and tablets, networking in 'harsh' industrial environments. Unlike a generic chip, an FPGA chip can be restricted in what it does - meaning that it can be made more secure while still using less energy. In this project, the ULX3S team will develop an affordable "vendor neutral" development board using open source tools, to stimulate bottom-up innovation, research and study of this flexible type of computing. Through a modular approach the same board can be used with different FPGA vendors daughter boards, lowering cost and making better use of natural resources.

Run by RadionaOrg

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.