Send in your ideas. Deadline June 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-10
End: 2022-10

SpinalHDL, VexRiscv, SaxonSoc

Open Hardware System-on-Chip design framework based on SpinalHDL

The goal of SaxonSoc is to design a fully open source SoC, based on RISC-V, capable of running linux and optimized for FPGA to allow its efficient deployment on cheap and already purchasable chips and development boards. This would provide a very accessible platform for individuals and industrials to use directly or to extend with their own specific hardware/software requirements, while providing an answer to hardware trust.

Its hardware technology stack is based on 3 projects. SpinalHDL (which provides an advanced hardware description language), VexRiscv (providing the CPU design) and SaxonSoC (providing the facilities to assemble the SoC).

In this project, we will extend SpinalHDL, VexRiscv and SaxonSoc with USB, I2S audio, AES and Floating point hardware capabilities to extend the SoC applications to new horizons while keeping the hardware and software stack open.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Consumers and businesses overpay for computer hardware, because the market is not working well. When you go to a store to buy a laptop or mobile phone, you may see different brands on the outside but choice in terms of what is inside the box (in particular the most expensive component, the processor technology) is pretty much limited to the same core technologies and large vendors that have been in the market for decades. This has a much bigger effect on the users than just the hefty price tag of the hardware, because the technologies at that level impact all other technologies and insecurity at that level break security across the board.

In the field of software, open source has already become the default option in the market for any new setup. In hardware, the situation is different. Users - even very big users such as governments - have very little control over the actual hardware security of the technology they critically depend on every day. Security experts continue to uncover major security issues, and users are rightly concerned about the security of their private data as well as the continuity of their operations. But in a locked-down market there is little anyone can do, because the lack of alternatives. European companies are locked out of the possibility to contribute solutions and start new businesses that can change the status quo.

Fortunately there are efforts underway to make hardware that, like open source software, is free to be reimagined and reassembled without restriction and that is transparently created, from the design down to the silicone. As these projects grow and connect, they can lay the foundations for a technological commons of trustworthy hardware that is accessible for everyone to learn from and build upon. This project is one of these efforts and will contribute a open source system-on-chip using a publicly available development and design stack. It will be able to run the widely used Linux-system and be deployed on affordable chips and development boards, allowing anyone to quickly create a device that does precisely what you want it to and that you can trust with your information or online service.

Run by SpinalHDL

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This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.