The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a pair of programmes, with $100 million in funding, to further the cause of free and open-source silicon: IDEA and POSH.

Headed by Andreas Olofsson, formerly of parallel-computing start-up Adapteva and creator of its Parallella development board, the Intelligent Design of Electronic Assets (IDEA) and Posh Open Source Hardware (POSH) programmes are backed by $100 million in funding from a $1.5 billion budget granted to the Electronic Resurgence Initiative (ERI) meta-programme. The two programmes go hand-in-hand: POSH aims to put together a library of open-source silicon blocks which can be combined to form a system-on-chip (SoC) or other processor, while IDEA will offer a range of tools for automated testing and assembly of said blocks.

'Most importantly, we have to change the culture of hardware design. Today, we don’t have open sharing,' Olofsson told the crowd at the Design Automation Conference, a report by attendee EE Times states, 'but in software, it’s already happened with Linux. Sharing software costs was the best option for the industry, and we can share some hardware components, too.

'I’ve designed a few boards and found it excruciating,' Olofsson added. '[Board designs quickly] explode into hundreds of details you have to worry about in resistors, capacitors, board size … and there are no optimisation tools, so often, you have a sub-optimal solution. Given the number of boards designed every year, the upside here is enormous.'

The programmes, which are aiming for an interim release in 2020 with final release in 2022, have named commercial partners including Arm, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Xilinx, along with defence specialist Northrup Grumman, plus 15 universities from across the US.

The programmes' launch comes amid increasing interest in free and open source silicon projects, in particular the RISC-V architecture which has been picked up by companies including Western Digital, Rambus, and Nvidia for shipment in future products, with Intel - long a proponent of standardising on its own x86 architecture - investing in development of microcontroller products based on the architecture.

A presentation on IDEA and POSH from late last year is available on the DARPA website (PDF warning).

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October 14 2021 | 15:04