The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the United States Department of Commerce has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Google to develop and produce chips. Circuit designs will be open source, allowing academic researchers and small businesses to use the chips without restriction or licensing fees. The chips will be manufactured by SkyWater Technology at its semiconductor foundry in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Google will fund the initial cost of setting up production and subsidize the first production run. NIST, along with academic research partners, will support the design of the chips. Circuit designs will be open source, allowing academic researchers and small businesses to use the chips without restriction or licensing fees. Large companies that design and manufacture semiconductors often have easy access to these types of chips. But the cost can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, posing a major barrier to innovation by academic researchers and start-up companies. By ramping up production to achieve economies of scale and putting in place a legal framework that eliminates licensing fees, the collaboration should bring the cost of these chips down significantly.
Modern microelectronic devices consist of stacked layers. The NIST/Google collaboration will provide a lower layer chip with specialized structures to measure and test the performance of components placed on it, including new types of memory devices, nanosensors, bioelectronics and advanced devices needed to artificial intelligence and quantum computing. NIST plans to design up to 40 different chips optimized for different applications.
” By creating a new and affordable national supply of chips for research and development, this collaboration aims to unlock the innovation potential of researchers and start-ups across the country. said Laurie E. Locascio, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of NIST. This collaboration was planned before the recent passage of the CHIPS law, but, said Locascio, ” it’s a great example of how government, industry, and academic researchers can work together to strengthen American leadership in this critically important industry. “.
Since the chip designs will be open source, researchers will be able to pursue new ideas without restriction and freely share data and device designs.
” Google has a long history of leadership in open source. Moving to an open source framework promotes reproducibility, which helps researchers in public and private institutions benefit from each other’s work and also democratizes innovation in nanotechnology and semiconductor research. said Will Grannis, CEO of Google Public Sector, a new division of Google that will focus on helping US public sector institutions accelerate their digital transformations.
The SkyWater smelter will produce the chips in 200mm diameter wafers, which universities and other buyers can slice into thousands of individual chips in their own processing facilities. Giving researchers access to chips in this format will allow them to prototype emerging designs and technologies that, if successful, can be brought into production more quickly, accelerating technology transfer from lab to market, the two hope. parts.
Research partners contributing to the design of the chips include the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University. NIST will host a virtual workshop on September 20-21, 2022 on the use of chips for measurement science and prototyping. The workshop will include a meeting of the NIST/Google Collaborative Research and Development Agreement Working Group which will be open to public participation. Information and registration instructions are available on the website of the NIST.