Open source silicon
Open silicon makes it easier to create derivative designs and reduces time to market, while significantly lowering the barriers to producing an SoC design. With the end of Moore’s Law, plus growth in low power connected devices and diverse machine learning applications, the demand for custom silicon increases at a rapid pace.
As with open source software, open silicon removes vendor lock-in and enables far greater procurement agility, in addition to creating opportunities for new market entrants and fostering widespread grassroots innovation. It’s open nature also provides an inherent auditability, which in an age of ever more advanced technological threats offers a distinct commercial advantage. Shared technology investment permits focus on product differentiation, with shared costs and substantially reduced overall risk.
Collaboration is fundamental to open silicon and at the core of everything that lowRISC does. Open source is in our DNA and we provide an open, vendor neutral environment for collaboration that spans industry, academia, open source foundations and individual engineers. We bring to projects a deep understanding of open source licensing, contributor models and community building, providing a uniquely positioned engineering capability.
Shared infrastructure is key to efficiency in collaboration and lowRISC relentlessly strives to increase this through the provision of tools for the automatic generation of SoCs and documentation, and test and verification. In providing these eliminating the direct costs associated with proprietary tools and the cognitive cost of working across different implementations.
lowRISC is committed to raising the bar for quality in open silicon via a methodical approach that combines the development and use of best practices and coding standards, with rigorous testing and verification. This is informed, and indeed made possible, by a multi-stakeholder approach that includes commercial partners with exacting requirements, and with teams that bring to bear their significant experience of successfully taping-out silicon which has shipped in high volume products.
The frictionless nature of open source holds the key to addressing many of the pressing challenges faced by the semiconductor industry, achieving this by providing a much simplified framework for procurement, collaboration, managing intellectual property rights, and technology advocacy. Our unique position within the ecosystem further simplifies the delivery of open silicon via a joined-up approach with key strategic relationships.
lowRISC: An independent home for projects
Collaboration on pre-competitive technologies is easier and more effective with a neutral convenor, with full stack engineering expertise to both develop and maintain systems, and to support collective technical decision-making.
While permissive licensing is used for hardware and software design artefacts, it remains necessary to protect trademarks, and certification has a key role to play. This is where lowRISC as a vendor neutral not-for-profit is well placed to hold intellectual property rights, and either directly operating, or specifying and overseeing the operation of certification programmes.
Openness improving university and industry interactions
Open source hardware enables smoother technology transfer into industry, and also unlocks the potential for stronger academic research. High quality hardware that is developed to industry-standard quality and using sector best practices is openly available to researchers who can modify and build on this, pioneering new ideas and architectures. The skills and capabilities of students and post-graduate researchers who are using open hardware and best practice for rigorous open silicon development are better aligned with industry needs for new technologies, and new hires.