Google's open-source silicon project takes a big step forward

Project allows developers to submit open-source integrated circuit designs and get them manufactured.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Image: Golubovy

US-headquartered GlobalFoundries (GF), the world's fourth-largest contract semiconductor manufacturer, has joined Google's two-year-old mission to prove open-source silicon is viable for foundries. 

Google's idea is to offer open-source projects by startups, academics and lower-cost options for manufacturing custom silicon with semiconductor foundries, with the aim of building a thriving ecosystem around open-source hardware.

"We cannot understate the milestone that this new partnership represents in the foundry ecosystem market," said Google's Johan Euphrosine and Ethan Mahintorabi from the Hardware Toolchains Team.

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Google and GF have released Process Design Kit for the GF 180nm process MCU platform "GF180MCU" under the Apache 2.0 license. The GF180MCU open source PDK is available on GitHub as an alpha release or "experimental" preview. The GF 180nm technology platform offers open-source silicon designers new capabilities for high-volume production, affordability, and more voltage options, Google said.

According to GF, applications using 180nm silicon are at a global capacity of 16 million-plus wafers a year and are expected to exceed 22 million wafers in 2026. Along with mobile, GF considers IoT and automotive high-growth markets for foundries.  

The partnership with GF extends Google's work with SkyWater Technology foundry and the Efabless manufacturing platform to prove the open-source model works for the foundry ecosystem. 

The program has sponsored six SkyWater "shuttle runs" and, of 350 designs the program has received, 240 have been manufactured at no cost, according to Google. The GF 180MCU will also be manufactured on the Efabless platform. 

"This open source PDK is the first result of our ongoing partnership with GF. Based on the scale and breadth of GF's technology and manufacturing expertise, we expect to do more together to further access and innovation in semiconductor development and manufacturing," said Euphrosine and Mahintorabi.

"The collaboration between GlobalFoundries and Google will help drive innovation for the application and silicon engineers designing in these high growth areas, and is an unambiguous affirmation of the viability of the open source model for the foundry ecosystem," they added.

GF is the world's fourth-largest foundry and manufactured 6% of the world's semiconductors in Q1 2022, according to CounterPoint. Taiwan's TSMC, the largest foundry, manufactured 56% of the world's supply, followed by Samsung Foundry's 15%, and Taiwan-based UMC's 7%.

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