GadgetFactory and Papilio is dead, but looking for inspiration to new projects to start.

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Hello all,

I'm not sure if anyone still drops by here but just wanted to post an update if anyone does.

Covid and the scarcity of chips on the market was the last straw for the Xilinx based Papilio FPGA boards.

I've made new designs with Lattice UltraPlus and Gowin LittleBee FPGA chips but bringing those boards to market right now is just not very practical. The other consideration is that there are super cheap FPGA boards available now such as the Tang Nano 9k board.

I'm not sure it makes any sense to try to make new Papilio FPGA boards to compete with the low cost boards that are out there so I'm thinking along the lines of what projects can be built on top of low cost and interesting modules such as the Tang Nano 9k, Raspberry Pi's, and ESP32's.

I'm going to post some project ideas to this thread and see if anyone is still here to kick ideas around with.

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Jack,

   we blow me over! I had wondered what on earth had happened to you, since you appeared to have ghosted the forum for 2 or 3 years, and it started to fill up with spam postings. I was concerned that something had happened to you, so good to hear that you are alive and kicking!

In the "Papilio General Discussion" forum I posted the question "Where's Jack?" back in Jan 2020, but never saw an answer.

In any case I just want to say "THANK YOU" for making the Papilio line of boards available. Back in 2019 a Papilio One was my first venture into the world of FPGAs. It was a bit of a struggle at first, such as when I tried to load an arcade circuit, supposedly "Space Invaders" and all I got was Breakout. Very confusing, but I guess you couldn't post the expected code due to copyright.

I have since gone on to design and get PCBs made for my own FPGA boards, Altera Cyclone II was my choice, due to package pin out choices. I also was shocked to discover that this line of  FPGAs (and nearly all others) had become as rare as rocking horse ***t. I had been tossing around the idea of selling my boards as part of a bigger set of companion boards for old retro CPUs, but that idea has now evaporated 😞 .



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Yeah man, I've prototyped several new Papilio boards and even some new product lines over the last couple of years. Every time I get stuck at chip availability and cost to assemble the boards. It's very tough right now to create something new...

As far as why I went silent, I just hit a brick wall. I had three little kids back to back and undiagnosed sleep apnea which just sapped me of all energy. I ended up having to take a full time job outside of GadgetFactory and it was all I could do to hold on and perform that job.

I'm getting to a better place now where the kids don't need so much care and the sleep apnea is treated to the point where I'm feeling back to my normal self again! Lot's of ideas are starting to go through my head again, along with the energy to start pursuing some of them.

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Sorry to hear about your family problems, makes complete sense to focus 100% on your kids.

Just relieved to finally discover that you are still around. BTW I did google the obits.

I'm still not 100% sure what exactly are the reasons behind the chip shortage, but it is affecting so much stuff. A contractor friend can't get hold of AVR chips to implement solutions for his clients, I just found out that it is more or less impossible to get hold of any Raspberry Pis, and the only place to get hold of tiny quantities of lower cost FPGAs is from China, but I have been stung a number of times by fake/remarked chips from Chinese sources. Given the price hike and what is available I am not prepared to take the risk.

The problem now is what is a safe "platform" to choose to base your next product line on?

Ironically as you sort of mention, there are new FPGA lines coming out of China, but can the toolset be trusted and what about availability?

Wishing all the best.


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Thank you for you concern, support, and kind words. :)

Since it is just not feasible to make my own FPGA product line right now I think it makes a lot of sense to focus on the Tang Nano 4k and Tang Premiere 20K FPGA boards/modules.

I've been playing around with LiteX on the Tang Nano 4k and have been absolutely loving it so far.

I heard the open source toolchain might be ready for use now, but the testing I did was with the Gowin toolchain. I don't mind using that toolchain until the opensource toolchain matures, which I think it will in no time. 

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  • 3 months later...

Wow and welcome back Jack!  I know first hand how much work kidlettes can be and three's a handful for sure.  Happy to hear you're back and looking to innovate on something.  In that regard, my $0.02 is maybe look to Escape Room gadgets. Escape Rooms are all the rage now and there are tons of options for electronic, electro-mechanical and even purely mechanical gadgets possible to enhance the escape room experience. So a site dedicated to those things could be fun, interesting and leverage lots of your skills in hardware and software design and development. 

I bring this up as I've been trying to get some robotics education in our local school system and tried teaching basic robotics. I've seen the basics of circuit theory, basic component understanding(resistors, switches, LEDs, relays, etc) missing because everything taught is usually just assembly instructions. So I tried starting with those basics before getting into building anything and the kids just yawned and lost interest. ie it was like another class and they didn't want that. I'm reinventing the project as an adventure story along the lines of Turing Tumble and 30 Days Lost in Space.  My twist is that it's more story/adventure and the repairs/projects will fit the story and quickly build upon and require previous project inclusions ala escape room techniques. I'm basing the parts on one of the many Arduino project kits already on the market in hopes that the students will purchase them for themselves or we can do fundraising such that they can take home kits. I'm building a custom Linux distribution to help with the story and might even add some native software development using Firmata firmware. Still a work in progress but hoping it sparks interest again.

Also wanted to let you know that the https certificates aren't working for the forum URL, and had to go http://

Looking forward to hearing what you come up with  for reinventing The Gadget Factory and welcome back!


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Hello Doug,

That sounds like a really great idea to build a story around electronics projects for kids. My kids say they want to learn how to make things, but lose interest pretty quickly if it is not fun. So seems like a great idea to keep them interested.

Escape room gadgets, I'm going to have to learn some more about that topic. I have to admit I haven't visited an escape room yet...

I'm currently working on some home automation projects with esp32-c3 modules. I'm getting close to having a gesture sensor based light switch and a doppler radar based motion detector ready. Hopefully will have something to share soon, and maybe they can be applied to some kind of escape room gadget... Maybe something like in Myst where you had to yank the chain twice to get it to skip the normal sequence and get to what is required... So use the gesture sensor to have people swipe left or right, but the trick is you have to swipe twice quickly to unlock the puzzle.


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On 2/1/2023 at 12:57 PM, Jack Gassett said:

Escape room gadgets, I'm going to have to learn some more about that topic. I have to admit I haven't visited an escape room yet...


I think you will be surprised at what gadgets people come up with for Escape Room activities and combined with esp32 MQTT control and messaging a Node Red system could both control the activities along with provide feedback to the Escape Room operators to track progress through the rooms.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@Jack Gassett,if you get an esp32c3 module I've got 2 hints which might save you some time

1) don't forget to install the esp32c3 target in the esp-idf development environment.

IIRC, in the esp-idf directory run ./ esp32c3 and then source the env setup script


2) to put the module like the Lolin esp32c3 C3 Mini into upload mode you have to:

Hold down the boot button for 5+ seconds, while still holding boot button do a short press of the Reset button and then release the boot button.


Twas chasing those rabbits for about an hour today. The first one was a head slapper since I should have remembered I'd only installed the esp32 build system.

But the 2nd item took a lot of searching and reading before I ran across that upload button 2-step method.



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@EtchedPixels Thanks for stopping by and checking in, it's good to see you. :) I intend to keep the forum and the wikis up and running indefinitely, I hope to develop new products and will need them again!

@DougL Thank you for the tips for the esp32-c3 boards. Point 2 definitely tripped me up for a while. I've tested with so many dev environments that it's hard to keep them straight anymore:

  • esp-idf
  • esp-idf with matter-sdk
  • esphome
  • platformio - esp-idf
  • platformio - arduino
  • platformio - esp-idf with matter-sdk

I'm currently trying to wake up out of light sleep from a gpio interrupt from the gesture sensor and send a message to the home automation controller in less than a second. The best I can get is about 6 seconds which is too long to wait when using the gesture sensor as a light switch. Without light sleeping the battery drains in less than a day....

I think I have a method that will work, which is to have one esp32c3 setup as an espnow gateway device which never sleeps. Then the light switches will use espnow to send their state within milliseconds of waking up. It is supposed to work. :)

I also just received an esp32-c6 which has thread support. Will do some testing with both.

I'll try to create a new forum thread about the progress, but I'm a little embarrassed by how slowly I'm moving on this. :) Maybe it will help me move faster if I post the results in the forum.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Greetings Jack, good to hear from you.

I dropped by the forums tonight and saw the fresh style, Nice! Chrome browser gives a warning about non https site though which might scare people away.

I just wanted to share my thoughts about new projects and where to go with gadget factory with you, no criticism, just ideas...

To me, the stuff that you and Alvie got working on the Xilinx boards were fantastic. A brilliant meld of the Arduino-style programming with c-code and the cycle-by-cycle, gate-by-gate control and flexibility of FPGAs.

As far as I know, you are still the only ones who pulled this off in such a good way.

We used your boards as controllers for our lab projects, controlling very high-tech stuff with great success.

The times have moved on however. Today you've got quite a spread of the RV32 soft-core RISC-V running on full-stack open source synthesized fpga gateware (Yosys + Verilog, which I cannot write myself, but still very cool).

The strength of Arduino has always been the speed of development - it is astounding to this day how you can purchase a board, some add-on breakout from Adafruit or whatever and get something up and running in half a day. With your marriage of Arduino + fpga you tapped into a bit of that. I'm sorry it kind of stalled.

Perhaps you can marry the Arduino high-level C-stuff with VHDL in one "IDE". I mostly disable the Arduino editor in favor of Notepad++, but I still like it very much for compile / code upload. 

If the FPGA Toolchain (Hosted by Yosys on Github) or OSS-Cad-suite can be mated to a simple Arduino-style GUI for compile and upload together with the high-level C-compile stuff, then you've really got something.

I seem to remember that you explored some FPGA schematic thing in the past. Personally I never tried it. I used those things when I started out in my career, but was quickly discouraged and went over to regular text-based HDL design. There is a pull in the industry towards the schematic stuff, agreed.

My own humble opinion is that this is due to the signal harnesses for FPGA processors become a great mess immediately in HDL because the interfaces contain so many signals. Perhaps this can be mitigated by using VHDL Records to get a cleaner design language.

Do not underestimate selling stuff to small/medium sized companies as well as hobbyists. There are alot of us out there who do not have the budgets in our projects to get a full Xilinx or Arrow devkit.

I've got a box of arduinos and small fpga dev boards lying around at work that I can pick up and do someting with really quickly. However, it sucks installing the Xilinx tools, or Microsemi tools when you sit down at a new computer. A reasonably quick installer package is a great advantage.


Some wishes (hardware/software):

External RAM - The FPGAs have such limited block ram resources that most of my projects get limited by that resource. I've put "HyperFlash" and "Hyper RAM" on some of my recent PCBs at work, but I can't speak for how good they are just yet

High USB throughput - I'm a 100MBit/s+ guy. I'm not asking for USB3, just USB2 does fine if the above RAM criterion is met so some elasticity is created in the buffers, as USB has never been low-latency. With the component availability still casting a shadow in the industry, maybe something like what TinyFPGA were doing with a bootloader in flash, and using FPGA IOs for the USB might be doable. The FT2232H based solution with one port as JTAG and the other for FPGA comms is great. However both the Papilio and Pipistrello by Magnus were limited because the full port was not routed to the FPGA, limiting it in terms of achievable speed.

The designs on the Papilio Xilinx boards were quite full from the start, I see similar things with the RV32 stuff thats out there. If a softcore processor is on-board, please give us the option to "go up a step" to get more resources, like the Pipistrello by Magnus.

VHDL mainline codestack, I cannot stress how much this means. I can look at, and understand Verilog. But I'm a complete novice at writing it, so if only Verilog is supported then I can probably never propose using it at work

Stick to a few products and try to make them great - Case in point Trenz Elektronik have lots of boards in their webshop, but their board support packages are garbage and they never got their forums going in a good way.

Breadboard-style 2.54mm / 0.1" pitch pin headers still win the day in terms of versatility. Break out as many ios to solder pads as you can. The PJRC Teensy is successful for precisely this reason I think.


Some links:


Best regards

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  • 1 month later...

Hello @AIY,

Thank you for such great feedback, it is really appreciated and it confirms some of the things I was thinking. 

The direction that I'm heading in is away from making development boards like the Papilio. I've designed several nice prototype Papilio boards using the ICE and Gowin FPGA chips. But I keep hitting road blocks when I try to make the jump from prototype to product that can be manufactured. With Covid there were no chips available, and now that there are chips available the costs just don't make sense. A new Papilio board just cannot compete with a board like the Tang Nano 9K board

So I'm actually working on how can I build Papilio around the Tang Nano 9K board and add value and build up around this very nice and cheap board. The idea is to build new versions of the Papilio MegaWing boards that work with the Tang Nano 9K. Then I am going to focus on the software side of things and developing online learning courses to be used along with the MegaWing boards. So I'll spend a lot less time getting caught up in the details of developing and manufacturing new hardware and will be more focused on doing cool stuff with the FPGA hardware. 

I've been really impressed with LiteX and Migen which lets you build RISCV systems using python. This combination eliminates some of the pain associated with building Wishbone interfaces and connecting hardware components in an automated way. I'd like to figure out how to build  your hardware design with LiteX under Platformio and then add your arduino C libraries using Platformio as well. 

This is what I've been thinking for the FPGA side of things, but I also really enjoy ESP32 based IOT/home automation projects as well. So I'm going to work on some of those types of projects too. I've designed a really cool platform for making Home Automation projects and have the first 10 prototype boards arriving in about a week. I should be posting more details and pictures soon.

I also ordered 10 prototype boards of a Tang Nano 9K to Papilio MegaWing converter board so I can start working on porting the existing papilio code to the Tang Nano. I expect to have those boards in about a month. So making progress!

The forum went down but it should be all sorted out now and I've been putting time into getting all of the Gadgetfactory websites back in order. The ssl error should be gone now for the forum. I'll be streamlining and consolidating the websites here in the next couple of months. First order of business is to get an updated learning website up and running so I can start writing online learning courses.

Thank you all who are still here and participating in what has been a ghost town for the last couple of years. Hopefully things will start to turn around and interesting things will be found here again. :)


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