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A New Era of Open-Source System-on-Chip Design

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Open-source software has been a critical enabler for tremendous innovation in the software ecosystem over the past two decades. Inspired by this success, open-source hardware involves making the high-level description of hardware components freely available for others to study, change, distribute, and ultimately use in fabricating their own hardware components. Unfortunately, open-source hardware has had a relatively bleak history and has yet to offer the same kind of transformative impact in the hardware ecosystem. At the same time, emerging applications in visual computing, data science, and machine learning are demanding more performance with less resources motivating an increasing need for accelerator-centric system-on-chip (SoC) design. We need hardware startups to drive the next phase of software/hardware innovation, and hardware startups need open-source hardware.

In this talk, I will briefly discuss some recent trends in open-source electronic design automation, instruction set design, and component development that suggest we may be entering a new era of open-source SoC design. I will then describe two projects in my own research group that concretely illustrate these trends. In the first part of the talk, I will discuss PyMTL, a new framework which leverages Python to create a domain-specific embedded language for concurrent-structural modeling and hardware design. PyMTL has the potential to improve the productivity and quality of open-source hardware design. In the second part of this talk, I will discuss the Celerity SoC, a 5×5mm 385M-transistor chip in TSMC 16nm designed and implemented by a team of students and faculty from UC San Diego, University of Michigan, and Cornell as part of the DARPA CRAFT program. The chip went from PDK access to tapeout in just nine months largely owing to extensive use of open-source hardware. My talk concludes with a call-to-action for the academic community to make open-source hardware a centerpiece of their activities. Academics have a practical and ethical motivation for using, developing, and promoting open-source electronic design automation tools and open-source hardware designs. We should be leaders in this new era of open-source system-on-chip design.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Wednesday Seminars series.

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