LibreSilicon: A Free and Open Source Semiconductor Manufacturing Process

Deniza Cristian 14/10/2022 | 15:16

Today there is no inexpensive and easy way for SMEs, startups and hobbyists to develop their own ASICs and bring them to the market. Engineers have to wait for months until she/he can test her/his design physically. Additionally, the EDA tools for designing chips are unaffordable for most start-ups.

 

Libresilicon intend to change that and developed a free and open source semiconductor manufacturing process standard, including a full mixed signal PDK, and provide a quick, easy and inexpensive manufacturing process. No NDAs will be required anywhere to get started, making it possible to build the designs in your basement if you wish so. Libresilicon aim to revolutionise the market by breaking through the monopoly of proprietary closed source manufacturers.

By providing a fully open process and technology node which allows publishing the entire layout, the doors for entirely free CPU platforms are being pushed open, which allows for a full security audit down to the transistor level. This means increased security assurance via peer review and no more hidden hardware backdoors for intelligence agencies.

„I installed my first open source operating system, OpenBSD, and wrote my first C-code, when I was 9 years old, back when I was growing up in Switzerland. I was inspired by the idea of a sentient computer (Artificial General Intelligence) controlling a robot in Knight Rider.

As a child, accepting that a KITT (Advanced supercomputer on wheels) wasn’t a reality was then more painful than realising that Santa isn’t real. As a result, my goal in life was to become the best hacker and engineer to build a KITT that is functional, and serves its purpose as the greatest hero of all time, just like in Knight Rider.

It was not easy to be innovative in Switzerland. I travelled to China, where I gathered practical experience with engineering over many years. After a long journey, 24 years later, I’ve mastered material science skills, which allowed me to design an Open Source semiconductor manufacturing process, LibreSilicon.

Still, I also made lots of progress in AI research and robotics”, says David Lanzendörfer, Process Design – LibreSilicon.

 

What problem does the project solve?

LibreSilicon solves multiple, very existential problems. The concerns about the trustworthiness and security of CPUs in the computers, smartphones and other devices are rising. LibreSilicon provides a fully open process and technology node, allowing a full security audit of CPU platforms. This increases security assurance via peer review and no more hidden hardware backdoors for intelligence agencies.

„The experience from my quest to construct KITT is what allowed me to make a process standard for manufacturing semiconductors, which helps to trace the entire manufacturing process from the Verilog/VHDL/Chisel through the RTL down to the transistor layout level and visual verification of the physical product. By specifying the target parameters of test structures, required for supporting the LibreSilicon technology, it becomes possible to design and test any ASIC (CMOS *and* analog!) somewhere in Tokyo and then download the design from GitHub and manufacture it anywhere else in the world. That’s what we’re doing. For now, we’re relying on Skywater for our tape-outs. We are porting our original PearlRiver test wafer to the Skywater platform in cooperation with the MIT, eFabless, Google and NIST”, adds David Lanzendörfer.

Apart from shutting out spy agencies from smartphones and giving back control over data, LibreSilicon also solves another problem relating to monopolies. LibreSilicon wants to end the vendor lock-in and monopoly of big semiconductor manufacturers by introducing open source semiconductor manufacturing process standards (LibreSilicon process) for manufacturing chips. By democratising and decentralising semiconductor manufacturing, we aim to revolutionise the market by having more liberty in our solution for semiconductor production.

 

A project funded by NGI

Libresilicon is funded through Next Generation Internet, an initiative of the European Commission, which aims to shape the Internet for the future as a powerful, user-centric (Internet of Humans) ecosystem that meets the fundamental needs of the population.

„Regarding hardware projects, funding becomes essential because unless you code with hardware, especially semiconductors, you can’t just edit your code and recompile. Every change in the hardware design means you have to make a new layout, send it to the foundry and wait. This means that bugs can only be fixed in 6 months or so. To date, I can benefit from 50% of the funding for my project.

Thanks to NGI, I was able to focus fully on LibreSilicon again and gain a financial head start which allowed me to fully focus on developments in the months to come. In addition, being introduced to others in the NGI community allowed me to, for instance, get in touch with like-minded networks that also want to build an AI accelerator with our Open Source PDK”, concludes David Lanzendörfer.

The NGI program funds the best research and innovation projects in the field of the Internet, ultimately addressing the need for a more fair, safe, resilient, sustainable, human-centred and decentralised internet. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are the backbones of this envisioned future.

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Deniza Cristian | 29/11/2022 | 10:17

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