Looking back on 2020, the year of the open source chip
Dear Free and Open Source Silicon enthusiasts!
2020 was quite a year. Even though it played out different for each of us, we were united in that many of our plans didn’t work out. Much has been written about missed chances, but let’s end this year on a positive note and focus on the good things. After all, that’s something the software and hardware development community have always been good at: embracing change. So let’s call 2020 an “agile year” and do a “sprint recap.”
A key part of our mission as FOSSi Foundation is to facilitate the exchange of ideas. In the past, we did so mainly through our in-person conferences. For 2020, we had planned FOSSIstanbul in March, our first ever conference in Istanbul (Turkey), Latch-Up in Boston, MA (USA), and finally ORConf some time in September. As we look back, it’s no surprise that we had to cancel all of them. Early on we also decided that we wouldn’t be able to run a virtual in-person-like event with the limited resources we had.
FOSSi Dial-Up and the year of the open source chip
Instead, we launched FOSSi Dial-Up, a series of high-impact, deeply technical talks. We were very grateful to kick this series off with a talk by Tim Ansell, in which we introduced something unimaginable even a couple months back: a fully free and open source Process Design Kit (PDK), the last (major) remaining blocker to produce fully open source chips. And as if that wasn’t enough, Tim even announced free (as in beer) “shuttle runs,”opportunities to get chips produced as an individual for no cost. Read more about the SkyWater PDK effort in our blog post Produce your own physical chips. For free. In the Open, or watch the recording of Tim’s talk, as more than 18,000 people have done so far!
Subsequent FOSSi Dial-Up talks featured Mohamed Shalan, Mohamed Kassem, James Stine, Matt Guthaus, and Tim Edwards providing technical deep-dives into various aspects of chip design and manufacturing, and highlighted the challenges, but also the immense progress a relative small group of open source developers have made through their continued contributions over the years. How about that: 2020, the year of the open source chip.
Four students tipped their toes into hardware design in this year’s GSoC
Introducing more people to the world of open source hardware is another main concern of the FOSSi Foundation. As in the previous years, we have participated in the Google Summer of Code program as an umbrella organization, helping our community members to best mentor their GSoC students. After many months of hard work, four students completed their tasks. A big thank you goes out to all students and mentors who made GSoC possible in this year of uncertainty.
Cocotb pushes forward the state of the art in verification
Verification remains a challenging topic in hardware design, and we are happy that the FOSSi Foundation-supported cocotb project is making steady progress on this front. In 2020, two cocotb releases were published, with the next release expected to happen in early 2021. To keep up with the steady stream of changes the project added four new maintainers (Eric, Colin, Kaleb, and Marlon), ensuring that the project continues to operate on a healthy footing.
The SolderPad license is now easier to use
The licensing committee released an updated version of the SolderPad hardware license with minor clarifications, and added it to the SPDX list of licenses.
Embench is working on including floating point tests
Embench, the embedded benchmark suite and another FOSSi Foundation project, saw a steady stream of improvements, and a version 0.6 is work in progress, including floating point tests.
Thankfully looking forward
Overall, even though 2020 didn’t go as planned in many aspects, it wasn’t a wasted year: we saw that the steady push towards free and open source silicon isn’t all glamourous at times, but when the time is right, great things happen: the SkyWater PDK is one such example, and we’re all excited to see more such stories in the months and years to come.
A big thank you goes out to all people involved in the FOSSi Foundation and in free and open source hardware projects. You are amazing! Keep up the great work! A special thank you this year goes out to Frank Gürkaynak, who was primary organizer for the FOSSIstanbul conference. The conference was in March and right at the time when (travel) restrictions came into force step-by-step and news and government guidance changed roughly every minute. Thank you Frank for all the planning and replanning, and for deeply caring for both the conference and all its attendees.
We as FOSSi Foundation are also thankful for our sponsors, who help us cover administrative costs. If you or your company would also like to support the non-for-profit FOSSi Foundation reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.