Big chip players join forces to form another RISC-V venture

Initial drive starts in Germany, pushes automotive blueprints

The RISC-V open instruction set architecture got a boost today after it emerged that five chip giants are coming together to jointly invest in a company to develop reference architectures based on the standard.

The new entity will be formed in Germany with investment from Infineon Technologies, Qualcomm, NXP Semiconductors, Bosch, and Nordic Semiconductor, with the aim of speeding up "the commercialization of future products based on the open-source RISC-V architecture."

If this sounds a bit vague, it is because the company's formation is subject to regulatory approvals in various jurisdictions, and so at this stage the founding corporations are unable to add any further detail about how much investment is involved, when it is expected to begin operations, or even what the company will be called.

What we do know is that this will not be a chip manufacturing operation, but will focus on the creation of reference designs to help increase the adoption of the RISC-V architecture. The aim is to establish the company as a single source for developing compatible RISC-V-based products.

Given the involvement of NXP and Infineon, it is perhaps not surprising the initial focus will be around automotive applications, with an eventual expansion to include mobile and IoT ecosystems.

A spokesperson for Infineon told us the RISC-V company may operate more like a consultancy, and hinted at the possibility of some sort of branding or labelling that others which make chips based on the reference architecture will be able to use to show their compatibility with the standard.

Infineon plans to sell products employing RISC-V alongside other kit using existing well-established microcontroller cores, the spokesperson said.

In a canned statement accompanying the announcement, NXP Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Lars Reger said the joint will try to "pioneer fully certified RISC-V-based IP and architectures, initially for the automotive industry."

"The creation of a one-stop-shop ecosystem where customers can select turnkey assets will strengthen the adoption of RISC-V across many European industries," Reger added.

The President of Infineon's Automotive Division Peter Schiefer said that as vehicles become software-defined, there is a general need for standardization and ecosystem compatibility across the industry.

Qualcomm's involvement is of note, as the chipmaker is embroiled in a legal spat with Arm over licensing, and has previously hinted that it might, at some point, favour RISC-V over the Arm architecture for products including its popular Snapdragon smartphone chips. Qualcomm is also involved in the automotive sector, especially for dashboard systems.

"We believe RISC-V's open-source instruction set will increase innovation and has the potential to transform the industry," Qualcomm SVP of Product Management Ziad Asghar, said in a supplied statement.

Although this latest development targets processor designs, the Linux Foundation and a bunch of big names in tech announced in June an initiative to make more software available for RISC-V platforms.

Dubbed RISE for RISC-V Software Ecosystem, this is intended to improve the availability of RISC-V software across a range of industry sectors, including mobile, datacenter and automotive. ®

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