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20 May, 2019 - 06:49 By Tony Quested

Google invests in Cambridge open source venture

Google lowRISC ETH Zurich Cambridge

Global technology giant Google has injected unspecified investment into and joined the board of Cambridge UK open source system on a chip innovator lowRISC C.I.C.

The University of Cambridge Computer Lab spin-out is also hiring fast to expand its engineering team to underpin rapid scale-up of its technology.

lowRISC C.I.C. tells Business Weekly that Professor Luca Benini (ETH Zurich), Dominic Rizzo (Google) and Ron Minnich (Google) have joined its board and that the announcement coincides with a new phase of hiring with the goal of significantly increasing the size of its ideaSpace Cambridge-based engineering team during 2019.

Google said it believes that open source is “good for everyone” and adds that “to further our commitment we are investing both capital and engineering resources to create a sustainable open source hardware ecosystem.”

lowRISC is a not-for-profit, community-driven organisation working to provide a high quality, security-enabling, open SoC base for derivative designs. 

The organisation is lowering the barrier to producing custom silicon, enabling research and FPGA experimentation and establishing a vibrant ecosystem around open silicon designs. lowRISC supports a core engineering team who collaborate with industry partners, academic groups, and the wider community to drive the open source silicon ecosystem.

Alex Bradbury, CTO and co-founder of lowRISC CIC, said: “We are very pleased to welcome new board members from Google and ETH Zurich who share our excitement about the future of open-source hardware. Their commitment will accelerate our roadmap for delivering high-quality open-source system-on-chip designs.” 

lowRISC also revealed that Google are providing support and funding to further their mission and that Prof. Benini's group at ETH Zürich are contributing their Zero-riscy processor core. lowRISC, in collaboration with Prof. Benini’s PULP team and Google, will continue development of the core as Ibex.

lowRISC emerged from the University of Cambridge Computer Lab, where its early work was supported by a private donation and a grant from Google. It continues to work closely with the University of Cambridge, as well as other academic and corporate partners, and the wider open source community.

ETH Zurich is a science, technology, engineering and mathematics university in the city of Zürich, Switzerland. Like its sister institution EPFL, it is an integral part of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain.

Google engineers Ron Minnich and Dominic Rizzo are long-term supporters of open source. Minnich is a well known figure in the High Performance Computing field and inventor of LinuxBIOS, now known as coreboot, the firmware used in all Chromebooks. Rizzo leads efforts in open source silicon and security fobs at Google.

Open source silicon promises new challenges and opportunities for both industry and the open source community. To take full advantage of open silicon the world will need new design methodologies, new governance models, and increased collaborations between industry, academia, and not for profit organisations. 

Rizzo and Google colleague Parthasarathy Ranganathan, said: “A vibrant free and open source software community has been vital to both Google and our customer’s success. We look forward to supporting the new domain of open source silicon to similarly benefit all participants.

“Besides enabling and encouraging innovation, chip designs derived from a common, open baseline will provide the benefit of implementation choice while still guaranteeing software compatibility and a set of common interfaces.

“With regards to security, the transparency of an open source approach is critical to both bug-finding and establishing implementation trustworthiness.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: lowRISC board members (L to R) – Dominic Rizzo (Google), Alex Bradbury (lowRISC), Gavin Ferris (lowRISC), Dr Robert Mullins (University of Cambridge), Prof. Luca Benini (ETH Zürich). Missing from the picture is Ron Minnich (Google).

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