Google joins NIST in a bid to democratize chip design

Article By : Majeed Ahmad

NIST and its university partners will design chips that Google will help manufacture on 200mm wafers at SkyWater's fab in Minnesota.

Another attempt to democratize chip design is on the horizon, this time constituting government, industry, and academia. Google has joined hands with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop and produce chips that researchers at universities as well as engineers at startups will be able to use without restriction or licensing fees.

SkyWater Technology will manufacture these chips at its fab in Bloomington, Minnesota on 200-mm wafers. Google will pay the initial cost of setting up production and subsidize the first production run. And NIST, with its university research partners, will design the circuitry for the chips. NIST’s research partners include the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University, and Carnegie Mellon University.

NIST plans to design as many as 40 chips, and researchers will be able to put these open-source chips to use in nanosensors, bioelectronics, and advanced devices needed for artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing. The legal framework of this collaboration eliminates licensing fees, which is expected to dramatically bring down the cost of these chips. Otherwise, the cost of designing a chip can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, posing a major hurdle for university researchers and startup engineers.

NIST developed this chip to measure the performance of memory devices used by AI algorithms.

According to NIST director Laurie E. Locascio, the collaboration was planned before the recent passage of the CHIPS Act, but now it certainly looks part of the efforts to enhance the U.S. leadership in the semiconductor industry. It will, for instance, allow design engineers to prototype designs and integrate chips in their production cycles quickly and efficiently.

Though we have seen somewhat similar efforts to democratize semiconductor design in the past, with Google, a known disruptor in the technology world, it seems to be a more credible effort. And the momentum built around the CHIPS Act could certainly help this semiconductor endeavor operating on an open-source model.

NIST will host a virtual workshop on chip design to be carried out in collaboration with Google on 20-21 September 2022.


This article was originally published on EDN.

Majeed Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of EDN and Planet Analog, has covered the electronics design industry for more than two decades.


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