The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the US Department of Commerce signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Google to develop and produce chips. The circuit designs will be open source, allowing academic researchers and small businesses to use the chips without restrictions or licensing fees. The chips will be manufactured by SkyWater Technology at its semiconductor foundry in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Google will finance the initial production setup cost and subsidize the first production. NIST, along with academic research partners, will support the chip design. The circuit designs will be open source, allowing academic researchers and small businesses to use the chips without restrictions 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-ups. By increasing production to achieve economies of scale and establishing a legal framework that eliminates licensing fees, the collaboration should significantly reduce the cost of these chips.
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 for 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 chip offering 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 Act, but, Locascio said, ” is a great example of how government, industry and academic researchers can work together to strengthen American leadership in this critically important sector. “.
As the chip designs will be open source, researchers will be able to pursue new ideas without restrictions and share data and device designs freely.
” Google has a long history of open source leadership. The move to an open source framework promotes reproducibility, which helps researchers from 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 foundry 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 put into production more quickly, accelerating the transfer of technology from the lab to the market, both parties hope.
Research partners contributing to the chip design include the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University, and Carnegie Mellon University. NIST will host a virtual workshop September 20-21, 2022 on the use of chips for measurement science and prototyping. The workshop will include a NIST/Google Collaborative Research and Development Agreement meeting, which will be open to public participation. Information and application instructions are available on the NIST.