Google Public Sector CEO: Open Source Chips May Be “Hundreds Of Times” Cheaper For Researchers

Written by

Nihal Krishan

Early numbers indicate that the new open-source chips Google is working to produce in partnership with NIST could be “hundreds of times” cheaper for researchers and manufacturers, according to Will Grannis.

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In an interview with FedScoop, Google’s public sector CEO spoke about the significance of the R&D deal announced Sept. 13 between the tech giant and the Department of Commerce, and said it was the type open source project that would improve cybersecurity by encouraging greater collaboration with security researchers on hardware design.

“The first numbers we have show that it will likely be hundreds of times cheaper for researchers and manufacturers to produce designs than if they had to start from scratch or do it themselves. »

The executive added, “So this public-private partnership really gives more efficient and economically viable pathways and establishes that leadership position for the United States in the manufacture of chip design. »

Grannis spoke to this publication shortly after the announcement of the R&D deal, which followed the passage of CHIPS and the Science Act.

Under the recent agreement, NIST will create up to 40 different circuit designs for the chips, and initial production costs as well as the first production run will be paid for by Google. The chips will be made by SkyWater Technology, based in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The R&D Agreement aims to support the innovation of academic and start-up researchers, for whom the cost of developing semiconductor chips can often be prohibitive. NIST’s circuit designs will be open source, meaning academic and small business researchers will be able to use the chips — which are essential to creating any modern electronic device — without restriction or licensing fees.

NIST Research Physicist Brian Hoskins, who also spoke with FedScoop, said that to his knowledge, the SkyWater-Google partnership is currently the only national provider of an open-source process design kit for the manufacture of semiconductor wafers.

“We’re interested in providing a US-built test vehicle that we can distribute to the public without restriction or license. And so right now, that’s the only way to do it. I think the important thing to realize is that members of the academic community have been asking for better access to the semiconductor supply chain for some time and we are listening to their needs and trying to meet them,” said Hoskins.

Google and the Department of Commerce say the chip partnership is likely to make it much cheaper and easier for university researchers and small commercial makers to create innovative chip designs for everyday products and specific needs. of the federal government.

The new chip designs will provide lower layer chips with specialized structures to measure and test the performance of components placed above. This includes new types of memory devices, nanosensors, bioelectronics, and advanced devices needed for artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

“It would be very difficult to develop a new memory technology if you can’t actually get to, say, an intermediate stage where you have the ability to maybe prototype at the million level, before going to a final product,” said said Hoskins.

“So this process, this challenge, is often called the technology transfer valley of death. The gap between academic research and the commercialization of technology. And so one of the things we’re doing here is we’re bridging that death of tech transfer value,” he added.

The latest partnership grew out of a series of workshops hosted by the National Science Foundation on how to improve academics’ access to the semiconductor foundry ecosystem. At these events, NIST officials met with Google program managers and realized that the two organizations were working toward common goals in chip manufacturing.

Grannis is the founder and leader of Google’s CTO office and a seven-year veteran of the company. His previous experience in the private sector includes six years as a product manager at Boeing.

He added: “By participating in the research phase of the chip design, we are also now in this full innovation loop where it is not only about selling software to a government agency, but also it s It is also a question of participating in the design of the frameworks and the design of the chips.

“It can actually advance an entirely new mission or use case for government in ways that are hard to predict. This could end up in quantum science and photonics, there are a number of application areas for this which are relevant to many government agencies and organizations, both in the research and development phase as well as on the side of supply,” Grannis said.

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