Send in your ideas. Deadline June 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-12
End: 2022-10

Timing-Driven Place-and-Route (TDPR) 

Open hardware tool to synthesize digital silicon circuits

The lack of an open-source timing-driven place-and-route tool is one of the major barriers to creating technically fully transparent digital integrated circuits such as microprocessors. The most popular open-source place-and-route tools available today are not timing-driven, hence the generated layouts are generally not guaranteed to satisfy the timing constraints. This requires tedious and time-consuming manual interventions. This project will combine published algorithms with existing open-source projects to fill this gap. The tool will be released with the free/libre AGPLv3 licence together with extensive documentation and tutorials.

  • The project's own website:

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 re-imagined 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.

But to make open hardware a reality, first it needs to meet critical performance and functional requirements. For example, the tools you use to route and place components and circuitry need to be timing-aware, meaning that the resulting layout is not guaranteed to satisfy timing constraints of the eventual physical implementation. This project aims to fill the gap of a timing-driven place-and-route tool to make open hardware more mature and functional.

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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.

This project is archived. Due to circumstances, the project as planned did not take place. This page is left as a placeholder, for transparency reasons and to perhaps inspire others to take up this work.