The movement has been going on for a few years and it accelerates. From specialized digital signal processing chips mainly used in communication applications, FPGA manufacturers have entered in the embedded system market to compete DSP and MCU chips.
Regarding raw computing performances (and not considering cost and design methodology), it is generally accepted that FPGAs, with their inherent parallelism capabilities, outperforms DSPs by many order of magnitude. This has a positive impact on performance on computional intensive applications such as digital signal processing and real-time control.
Knowing that more than 60% of electric power in the industrialized world is used to power electric motors, motor real-time control is an important application that can potentially take advantage of the high computing capabilities of FPGA-based embedded systems. Variable-speed motor drives are power electronics applications that have time-variant parameters and non-linear dynamics in which complex calculations must be achieved in real-time at high frequency to get optimal performance. Crunching numbers at high speed, this is exactly where FPGA can perform.
How motor control applications can benefit from FPGA technology ? What can a low-cost programmable hardware and software chip make better than a DSP or a MCU chip ?
There’s is no obvious answer to those questions and it must be looked not only on the technical perspective (performance gains), but also on a engineering perspective (better reliability) and a business perspective (cost reductions). Each of those perspective are going to the subject of subsequent posts.