Japanese researchers harness parallel chips

A group of researchers aims to create a software standard for multicore chips in devices, including mobile phones and car-navigation systems

A group of Japanese researchers is collaborating on a software standard for multicore processors to be used in a range of technology products, including mobile phones and in-vehicle navigation systems. The effort could lead to the development of a super CPU, according to the researchers.

First reported in Japanese publication Nikkei Business News in September, the initiative involves local chipmakers and IT companies including Canon, Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, Panasonic and Renasas, a joint venture between Hitachi and Mitsubishi. It is supported by the Japanese government, which will be providing an initial capital of between ¥3bn (£20m) and ¥4bn.

Hironori Kasahara, professor at Waseda University's department of computer science and lead designer for the project, told ZDNet Asia in an email interview that the project has been approved, by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (Nedo), to begin a one-year basic planning phase. Nedo is a funding agency under Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The grant also includes a three-year detailed research proposal, which involves research in multicore processor architectures, the development of a "parallelising compiler with power reduction capabilities" and work on the API (application programming interface), Kasahara said.

"We are developing software de facto standard or API for multicore processors for consumer electronics and real-time embedded systems, [such as those used in] automobiles," he explained. "Our targets are for consumer electronics and real-time embedded systems like cell phones, digital television sets, car navigation systems, robotics and automobiles."

Contrary to earlier reports that suggest the super CPU project would challenge Intel, Kasahara noted that the targeted application areas were different from the American chipmaker's processors. In addition, there are no hardware standards involved, he pointed out.

When contacted, a Japan-based NEC spokesperson confirmed the company is participating in an API standardisation project "using energy-saving software invented by Waseda University's professor Kasahara".

"NEC is simply aiming to advance unified standards among software technologies," the spokesperson added. "NEC is not, however, planning to develop a new CPU, as described in recent reports, which handles these latest technologies."

Kasahara added, however, that if the follow-up three-year proposal is accepted by the authorities, he would be looking to "develop a test chip by 2012 with one or two companies [tapping the parallelising compiler and API]".

In an email interview, Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst for compute platforms at iSuppli, said the initiative appears to point towards a primary focus on consumer embedded applications, with compute as potential applications at a later date. However, Wilkins said gaining entry to the mainstream server business would be "extremely difficult" if the CPU is not x86-compatible as the de facto operating systems, Linux and Windows, run on x86 architecture.