Can open hardware trends spread to the chip space?

In a small office in Silicon Valley, USA, Windell H. Oskay dreams that one day an open processor or SoC will ignite an innovative raging fire.

Oskay is currently the vice chairman of the Open Source Hardware AssociaTIon (OSHWA), a non-profit educational organization founded in 2012: "In the world of open hardware, I am most excited about openness. The processor core; for example, an open processor design can be implemented in the firmware of the FPGA."

Many of today's open hardware designs, such as those sold by Oskay's own small company, are based on Arduino or Raspberry Pi motherboards; so-called makers can access and build board-level architectures, but on top of it They can't intervene with Atmel AVR or other processors.

Oskay said in an interview with his store Evil Mad ScienTIst: "When the concept of openness is becoming more and more common, it should be possible to make design more open at all levels," the small shop sells for open hardware enthusiasts. And related products and toolkits created by educational applications.

Open hardware is cool except for the diehard makers like Oskay: "There are many other potential advantages - both political and economic;" he explained, for example, open hardware can circumvent Cuba, Haiti, Export restrictions and embargoes in North Korea, Iran, etc.: "You will be surprised by the actual obstacles."

On the economic front, open hardware allows technicians to build affordable equipment, opening a door for schools and developing countries; for example, if someone is planning to build a small business in Nigeria, Africa, or Academic labs, but not enough money to buy equipment, open hardware design can achieve his wishes, can produce cheap equipment at a low price: "We often hear such stories."

Open wafers may ignite a boom, but not so fast. Nearly a decade ago, Sun Microsystems opened its Sparc processor, but it did not receive significant market acceptance. Recently, IBM also revealed that it will open the Power processor architecture, but so far only one Chinese company has become its The customer expressed interest.

There is an Open Core organization for the industry group that raises funds for the implementation of the open ASIC for the Linux platform, but so far only 452 supporters have raised $22,742, a million dollars or even one. The cost of the wafer is still very far away. And while large semiconductor companies are investing in open hardware reference designs, they are still very careful about their own chip IP.

For example, Atmel and Broadcom did not open their processors for Arduino and Raspberry Pi motherboards; Intel recently released an open Galileo motherboard that is compatible with Arduino, but the Quark chip architecture used above does not. public.

"The entire chip industry's business model is still to protect and sell IP." Oskay believes that to break through the status quo, a startup or an organization like Open Cores should take the lead: "Software organizations may also create an open core for processors. And there is a business model that sells drivers to support their operations."

Oskay said that like the hardware Red Hat, many of these cases started with a small group of people with limited funding, and then attracted more and more people's interest, it succeeded. However, the production of open wafers may not be too popular because of the high cost; SoC will be one of the biggest opposites of open hardware.

Customers who typically purchase SoCs typically only get an application programming interface (API) and a small portion of binary programming software, and even a paying customer may not be able to get a complete wafer spec sheet. Outside the semiconductor arena, Oskay said, a group of engineers from a wide range of fields are preparing to explore open hardware systems, including automobiles, home appliances and test instruments.

For example, Local Motors in Phoenix, USA, allows people to design their own vehicles, including cars and motorcycles; Oskay pointed out: “I have a friend who designed an electric sports car.” Other open hardware design projects include cameras. , automated production equipment, grinding machines, as well as robots, drones, 3D printers and more.

"There are a lot of open hardware activities, but there is still a lack of a central organization." This is what OSHWA, represented by Oskay, hopes to play in the future. At present, there is one less lobbying group for the open hardware movement. Although OSHWA also provides guidance for meetings with the legislature, it is mainly locked in education.

Oskay said the government can provide R&D loans for the manpower and materials needed for open hardware projects, and it can provide mechanisms to protect the intellectual property and accountability of open hardware; he pointed out that although lobbying has made everything harder. Some, but open hardware advocates have their own lobbying groups that are reasonably developed, and the good news is that such activities have spawned a series of open tools.

Evil Mad ScienTIst is designed with gEDA, a PCB design software that supports Macs, Windows and Linux. Now there is an updated tool, KiCad, which is very fast and more popular than gEDA. Oskay says design tools are very important and open. The core of the hardware is to release the original design file through sharing, so that others can make, modify, copy and sell the design.

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