Architecture for Plug-and-Play Modular Technology

Michele Pancani


Electronic and computing devices are composed of multiple components performing different tasks. Often, the need to substitute or upgrade a single component leads to the replacement of the entire device. In order to reduce electronic waste, costs and to allow more freedom of customization, the goal of this project was to design and test a peripheral device protocol that allows components, such as sensors and actuators, to operate as plug-and-play interchangeable modules. These modules are connected to the system’s control microprocessor through a standard host connector, which is similar to the mikroBUS standard developed by the company MikroElektronika, but with the additional freedom of allowing modules to be interchanged while the program is running, regardless of whether the module is classified as an input or output device. The idea, indeed, is to allow the user to dynamically add a new peripheral device to any available host connector, remove devices while the system is operational, or substitute a peripheral like a fingerprint scanner or a LED flashlight after the system has been programmed and is operational. Furthermore, the technology differs from the Universal Serial Bus (USB) architecture because of the hardware setup and the communication protocol. The project began with the design and development of a first simplified architecture followed by a discussion of a more general and complex interface for plug-and-play interchangeable modules. The peripheral device protocol architecture was described in the VHDL hardware description language and synthesized for implementation in the field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chip of an Altera DE0 development board. Next, testing with an Altera Nios II soft-core processor, instantiated on the same FPGA chip and programmed in C, was completed with simple input/output peripherals implemented in VHDL serving as the test plug-and-play modules. Afterwards, simulation and experimental results were analyzed to ensure that the expectations were met. This concept of interchangeable modules can be applied to connect simple sensors and actuators to a CPU, but also has a wide range of uses in more advanced devices, such as medical equipment or smartphones.


Modular Technology; Plug and Play; I/O Peripheral Device; Technology; Architecture; VHDL; FPGA

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