Google and the US government partner to make open source chips

Alfonso Maruccia

Posts: 89   +41
Staff
TL;DR: Google and the US government want to speed up design and manufacturing of new semiconductor devices, adopting the open source model to let universities and startups run wild with innovative ideas. The cooperative research and development agreement will allow the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to design, develop and produce open source chips that researchers and companies will be free to use and adapt in their applications.

A new agreement between the US Department of Commerce and Google could spark a surge of new chip designs and innovations. According to the DoC, the Google-NIST partnership answers one of the most pressing issues in the semiconductor industry: big corporations have ready access to new chips and designs, while universities, researchers and small businesses face a major hurdle as they try to create something new. An open source chip design, which can be used without restrictions or licensing fees, should accelerate innovation and bring costs down dramatically.

The agreement states that NIST, together with its many research partners (University of Michigan, University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University, Carnegie Mellon, and others), will provide new chip designs to be manufactured by Skywater Technology in Minnesota. Google will fund the initial manufacturing cost, subsidizing the first production run as well.

Also read: Hard vs. Soft: Software may be eating the world, but hardware monetizes better

The US government aim is to create a new and affordable domestic supply of chips for research and development, a way to "unleash the innovative potential" of researchers and startups.

According to NIST director Laurie E. Locascio, the collaboration was planned before the introduction of the new CHIPS Act legislation, and it's an example of how government, industry, and academic can work together for the common goal of preserving the US leadership in the technology industry.

In NIST plans, almost 40 unique chip designs will be funded in partnership with Google to power different applications like new memory devices, nanosensors, bioelectronics, and chips for artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The open source designs will let researchers run wild with new ideas and share data without restrictions.

In presenting the new initiative, Google Public Sector CEO Will Grannis highlights the "long history of leadership in open source" of the Mountain View company. Public and private institutions will be able to iterate on each other's work, thus democratizing innovation in nanotechnology and semiconductor research. Chips will be produced in the Skywater foundry using industry-standard 200nm wafer discs, which universities and other partners will then dice into thousands of individual chips at their own processing facilities.

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azicat

Posts: 170   +219
What does Google get out of this? A lot of "Google will be funding..." but doesn't say what they get out of it.
Perhaps access to innovative hardware assets, without having to invest their own capital into blank-slate R&D? Similar to how Linux is at the core of a lot of their products.

I suspect the devil will be in the details for anyone looking at actually using the fabs to manufacture bespoke designs and ASICS.What node, minimum order size, cost scaling, etc.

Edit: and the Chinese spy comment is silly. It’s an open source proposal.
 

yRaz

Posts: 4,816   +6,003
What does Google get out of this? A lot of "Google will be funding..." but doesn't say what they get out of it.

Can we safely assume the government have given them a nice tax break or something to that effect?
they will probably release an easy to use version on android for this open chip standard and they will be able to collect data from people who use it. They're playing the long game. They don't make money on the hardware or the software, they make money on the people who use it.
 

Sathi43

Posts: 62   +81
What does Google get out of this? A lot of "Google will be funding..." but doesn't say what they get out of it.

Can we safely assume the government have given them a nice tax break or something to that effect?
The same stuff they get for any of their other open source projects.(Android, Chromium etc)They become the standard.
 

umbala

Posts: 786   +1,555
What does Google get out of this? A lot of "Google will be funding..." but doesn't say what they get out of it.

Can we safely assume the government have given them a nice tax break or something to that effect?
They get free ideas out of it. Once different things are tried based on these new chips there will inevitably be some useful ones. Since it's open source, Google can turn around and use those ideas for free. Whatever amount they're spending on this they could spend 10x as much and still wouldn't reach as many smart people as they will doing it this way.

You know, not every gift horse is a Trojan horse. I mean, you could ask the same question about some other Google projects. Their browser engine is also free and open source, even Microsoft's own Edge browser uses it as well as Firefox and many others. They also let their Android operating system be used by anyone instead of locking it down like Apple is doing. What are they getting out of that?
 

DSirius

Posts: 368   +769
TechSpot Elite
What does Google get out of this? A lot of "Google will be funding..." but doesn't say what they get out of it.

Can we safely assume the government have given them a nice tax break or something to that effect?

Google's way of doing business is claiming that is offering services for "free" when in fact they make a hidden transaction with users (part of it very weaselly disguised in EULA, but most of it hidden and illegal), in which Google spies and steals users data and info and in this transaction users always loose more than they get from Google's services. Let's check Google earnings and all of us will have a pretty clear picture of how much our data is valued and cost.
This "modus operandis" of Google is alive and operate for more than 20 years. Do you think that Google suddenly found out a new way of doing business?
Rather Google, together with some infamous US agencies, found a new way to spy and steal users data through this new project which is as Open Source as Android is, so not quite Open Source as many expect.
For Google this may be the chance to finally have a backdoor on hardware infrastructure. You know, Google is as powerful as hardware infrastructure allows them to run their business, so this is a fatal weak point of Google's business.
That's why Apple is a fierce competitor of Google, because Apple makes and control both, the hardware and software ecosystem.
In fact Google is trying to do on the hardware level with this "free" Project what they did with Android on the software level.
So big warning flags. Open source projects are really free when they are not controlled or hijacked by infamous corporations like Google or Microsoft for example.
If Google really wants to support an Open Source CPU or any chips project can do it by donating money to OpenRISC processor or other open-source CPUs or chips projects which already exist and not reinventing the wheel and claiming that is "free" and offering it from it's fake generosity. It was already free before them.

One positive note though is that even big corporation are aware that Open Source projects are a succesful solution for the long term for everybody not only for few so is time to better support it instead of sabotage it.
 
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sac39507

Posts: 423   +239
Anything associated with the name Google simply cannot be trusted ... stay tuned to find out how the tax payer will be screwed in the near future .....

Nor anything associated with the "Government." What a combination of the two worst organizations.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 8,270   +7,632
If you ask me, this is how all US Government research should be handled. After all, its taxpayer dollars paying for it, so to me, it makes no sense to force those wanting to use such research to have to license patents on any of it.

Yeah, yeah, I know who trusts the US Government - but having to license patents that were paid for by taxpayer funds is a big part of that trust issue - at least as I see it.
 
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wiyosaya

Posts: 8,270   +7,632
<...>Open source projects are really free when they are not controlled or hijacked by infamous corporations like Google or Microsoft for example.
Agreed.

Microsoft, in a way, also did the same thing. For years, they gave away MS Office to "partner" companies and students - thus creating a market for their office crapware when there were far better products out there like WordPerfect, IMO.
One positive note though is that even big corporation are aware that Open Source projects are a succesful solution for the long term for everybody not only for few so is time to better support it instead of sabotage it.
Again, I agree.