I installed my first open source operating system, OpenBSD, and wrote my first C-code, when I was 9 years old, back when I was growing up in Switzerland. I was inspired by the idea of a sentient computer (Artificial General Intelligence) controlling a robot in Knight Rider.
As a child, accepting that a KITT (Advanced supercomputer on wheels) wasn’t a reality was then more painful than realising that Santa isn’t real. As a result, my goal in life was to become the best hacker and engineer to build a KITT that is functional, and serves its purpose as the greatest hero of all time, just like in Knight Rider.
It was not easy to be innovative in Switzerland. I travelled to China, where I gathered practical experience with engineering over many years. After a long journey, 24 years later, I’ve mastered material science skills, which allowed me to design an Open Source semiconductor manufacturing process, LibreSilicon.
Still, I also made lots of progress in AI research and robotics.
LibreSilicon is a free and open source semiconductor manufacturing process
We develop a free (as in freedom, not as in free of charge) and open source semiconductor manufacturing process standard, including a full mixed signal PDK (Process Design Kit), and provide a quick, easy and inexpensive way for manufacturing. No NDAs (Non-disclosure agreement) will be required anywhere to get started, making it possible to build the designs in your basement if you wish so.
What problem does the project solve?
LibreSilicon solves multiple, very existential problems. For starters, the concerns about the trustworthiness and security of CPUs in our computers, smartphones and other devices are rising. LibreSilicon provides a fully open process and technology node, allowing a full security audit of CPU platforms. This increases security assurance via peer review and no more hidden hardware backdoors for intelligence agencies.
The experience from my quest to construct KITT is what allowed me to make a process standard for manufacturing semiconductors, which helps to trace the entire manufacturing process from the Verilog/VHDL/Chisel through the RTL down to the transistor layout level and visual verification of the physical product. By specifying the target parameters of test structures, required for supporting the LibreSilicon technology, it becomes possible to design and test any ASIC (CMOS *and* analog!) somewhere in Tokyo and then download the design from GitHub and manufacture it anywhere else in the world. That’s what we’re doing. For now, we’re relying on Skywater for our tape-outs. We are porting our original PearlRiver test wafer to the Skywater platform in cooperation with the MIT, eFabless, Google and NIST.
Apart from shutting out spy agencies from your smartphone and giving you back control over your data, LibreSilicon also solves another problem relating to monopolies. LibreSilicon wants to end the vendor lock-in and monopoly of big semiconductor manufacturers by introducing open source semiconductor manufacturing process standards (LibreSilicon process) for manufacturing chips. By democratising and decentralising semiconductor manufacturing, we aim to revolutionise the market by having more liberty in our solution for semiconductor production.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
It’s the oldest HR question in the book, but let’s outline it here. In the future, I hope to own an AI-driven home in the south of Europe. I would appreciate some peace and quietness, where the only noises I’d hear are from the wind and the sound of water being pumped by my self-managing aquaponics system. I also hope that my development in engineering will flourish and that I will be able to build a virtually indestructible sentient car. To add, with that technology, I would also like to solve world hunger by automating food production.
The role of NGI
Regarding hardware projects, funding becomes essential because unless you code with hardware, especially semiconductors, you can’t just edit your code and recompile. Every change in the hardware design means you have to make a new layout, send it to the foundry and wait. This means that bugs can only be fixed in 6 months or so. To date, I can benefit from 50% of the funding for my project.
Thanks to NGI, I was able to focus fully on LibreSilicon again and gain a financial head start which allowed me to fully focus on developments in the months to come. In addition, being introduced to others in the NGI community allowed me to, for instance, get in touch with like-minded networks that also want to build an AI accelerator with our Open Source PDK.
By : David Lanzendörfer, Process Design – LibreSilicon
Verilog: A hardware description language used to model electronic systems
VHDL: Hardware description language that can model the behavior and structure of digital systems
Chisel: The Constructing Hardware in a Scala Embedded Language is an open-source hardware description language used to describe digital electronics and circuits at the register-transfer level.
RTL: Resistor–transistor logic
ASIC: Application-specific integrated circuit
CMOS: Complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) is a small amount of memory on a computer motherboard that stores the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) settings.