India selects RISC-V for semiconductor self-sufficiency contest: Use these homegrown cores to build kit

Startups to get busy with open-source 32/64-bit Shakti, 64-bit Vega

India has announced a national competition to foster the use of the nation's homegrown RISC-V microprocessor designs in the hope the tech will eventually replace imported parts, and be used to create products in demand around the world.

The contest's organizers argue India needs its own silicon to power all manner of things, from "public utility services such as surveillance, transportation, and environmental-condition monitoring" to "commodity appliances like smart fans, locks, and washing machines.” India’s government also wants its own chip families for its aerospace, defense, and nuclear sectors, on the grounds it can only be satisfied security-wise if it uses homemade products.

Hence the national competition that calls for startups and students to build one of 25 suggested devices, which range from internet-of-things gadgets to drones, robots and even a gas pipe leakage detector, using the country's homegrown CPU cores.

Specifically, we're talking about two designed-in-India microprocessor designs, the 32-bit E-Class and 64-bit C-class Shakti, and the 64-bit Vega. Shakti was developed by the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and the Vega at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). Both implement the open-source, royalty-free RISC-V instruction set architecture. They’re both open-source, too, which isn't required by RISC-V.

Shakti has six variants that serve applications ranging from embedded applications to servers and HPC workloads. We're told Shakti has been taped out and fabricated at 180nm by the Indian government's Semi-conductor Laboratory in Chandigarh, and at 22nm by Intel's foundry. The Vega, meanwhile, is available in five variants.

Competition hopefuls will be given Artix7-35T or an Artix7-100T FPGA boards to run their chosen processor as a soft core, and create their entry.

The contest will run for ten months. Indian officials acknowledge it's all the start of a rather longer effort to both enhance the nation’s semiconductor design and manufacturing capabilities and an ecosystem to make it all happen and meet India’s desire for silicon self-sufficiency. ®

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