Disclaimer: Despite the fact that the present contributors of the Cubic Project are/were Altera employees, the project is NOT an Altera project. This is a hobby project built by a team of geeks who had devoted their personal time. The content in this website is released under GPL license. Neither the Cubic team nor Altera is responsible for how you make use of the design.
Cubic Board is originated from an Altera Maker Faire project in 2014. A few engineers from Altera attended the Maker Fairer event and started to ponder how FPGA can be used in the Maker community and contribute to the movement. Similar to CPU which can be customized in software, FPGA offers customization in hardware. If used correctly, FPGA can become a very powerful tool for makers.
At that moment, there were no decent FPGA boards which could meet this demand. Therefore the team gathered and drew the following three basic requirements, which had defined the Cubic project:
- Open source
- Ensure its usability in generic products
- Low cost
Open source: Most of Cubic team members are firm supporters of open source, who believe that it is a good way of sharing and improving knowledge, which was the very foundation of civilization. Before the initiative, the Cubic team found no FPGA boards had open sourced the PCB layout (the most significant component in PCB design), with the exception of Altera official development boards. These development boards are a little bit over engineered to over 20 layers in order to ensure the superior quality (as compared to 10 layer PCB from Cubic board). Therefore, the team decided to build a board which is transparent to the users and offers the full possibility of improvements and customization, catering to the unique needs of each application.
Usability: Yes, we want to build a board in professional standard, not just a traditional development board. The problem with traditional development board is that it is geared to teach people how to use the software tools and get familiarized with the design flow, they do not guide you on how to build the board. When it comes to integration with real products, users have to design the board from scratch. They would then realize that the development board doesn’t offer any help in this regards. Most of the time, there were no design guideline or PCB layout at all. If the user is lucky enough to find one, he/she has to remove all the unnecessary components, change the layout, placement and routing. It is not surprising that designing from scratch might save more efforts.
In conclusion, an ideal platform is something that you can explore during the prototyping period, meanwhile it is also ready to be used in production, i.e., there should be no gap between learning/development and production.
Low cost: Another key aspect is the cost. Many maker projects are motivated by passion in technology and sponsored by personal finance. The order quantity is often less than commercial products from a company.
With the above design goals in mind, Bo Zhou came out with the design of the first generation of Cubic Board. The miniature board soon attracted interests from a few other Altera employees which formed the Cubic team. With passion, each member has spent countless after-work hours to bring the project to what it looks like today (the second generation). Altera has been very supportive during this process. The team has received two batches of FPGA chips for free. The Altera innovation community has also offered many valuable suggestions on various aspects.