Engineers at ETH Zurich and the University of Bologna recently debuted the 32-bit PULPino, an open-source microprocessor based on RISC-V architecture. The PULPino – taped out as a 65nm ASIC – is now available for RTL simulation and FPGA mapping.
“The core has an IPC close to 1, full support for the base integer instruction set (RV32I), compressed instructions (RV32C) and partial support for the multiplication instruction set extension (RV32M),” the PULPino team explained. “It implements several ISA extensions such as: hardware loops, post-incrementing load and store instructions, ALU and MAC operations, which increase the efficiency of the core in low-power signal processing applications.”
According to ETH Professor Luca Benini, PULPino will allow small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to build open source hardware from the ground up.
“Using the PULPino processor, we are developing a smartwatch equipped with electronics and a micro camera,” Benini told PhysOrg. “It can analyze visual information and use it to determine the user’s whereabouts. The idea is that such a smartwatch could one day control something like home electronics.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, PULPino is also being used in other research projects that Benini is working on with Swiss and European research institutions, including Cambridge University.
“Until now, such research projects came about mainly as a result of personal contacts, and the partners had to negotiate a separate license agreement for each project,” noted Benini. “PULPino is now more easily available. We hope that there will be more collaborations in the future.”
Benini also emphasized that PULPino could help tech SMEs throughout Europe.
“The production of microchips has become cheap in recent years because semiconductor manufacturers have built up large production capacities that they must use,” he concluded. “It would be far too expensive in terms of engineering effort to design a complex chip from scratch, especially for SMEs.”
As recently noted in “Charting a New Course for Semiconductors,” the success of open-source software – as opposed to a closed, walled-garden approach – has set an important precedent for the semiconductor industry.
To be sure, more than 95 percent of today’s web servers run on variants of the Linux operating system, while approximately 85 percent of smartphones sold worldwide use the open-source Android mobile operating system (OS). In addition, Red Hat recently became the first open source company to reach the $2 billion run-rate in annual sales.
Interested in learning more about PULPino? You can check out the 32-bit RISC-V processor here.