NIST and Google sign agreement to produce open-source chips

US President Joe Biden holds a microchip as he speaks before signing an executive order on securing critical supply chains in Washington, DC, February 24, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology has signed an R&D agreement with Google to design and produce new open-source chips.

According to the agency, the deal is intended to boost public and private innovation by establishing a legal framework that eliminates license fees for the technology.

Under the agreement, NIST will create up to 40 different circuit designs for chips optimized for different applications in partnership with universities including the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University.

Securing the chip production supply chain and ensuring researchers have access to the technology needed for path-breaking research remains a core priority for the Biden administration. Last month President Biden signed an executive order to implement the funding for semiconductor technology included in the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

The new chips will be paid for by Google and will be manufactured by Skywater Technology in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The R&D agreement is intended to support innovation by university and startup researchers, for whom the cost of developing such chips can often be prohibitive. NIST’s circuit designs will be open source, meaning that academic and small business researchers can use the chips without restriction or licensing fees.

Commenting on the new agreement, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Laurie Locascio said: “By creating a new and affordable domestic supply of chips for research and development, this collaboration aims to unleash the innovative potential of researchers and startups across the nation.” She added: “This is a great example of how government, industry and academic researchers can work together to enhance U.S. leadership in this critically important industry.”

According to DOC, the new chip designs will provide bottom-layer chips with specialized structures for measuring and testing the performance of components placed on top of it. This includes new kinds of memory devices, nano-sensors, bioelectronics, and advanced devices needed for artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Google Public Sector CEO Will Grannis said: “Moving to an open-source framework fosters reproducibility, which helps researchers from public and private institutions iterate on each other’s work. It also democratizes innovation in nanotechnology and semiconductor research.”

The new chips will be produced as 200-millimeter discs of patterned silicon, which universities and other purchasers can then dice into thousands of individual chips at their own processing facilities.

Universities that will work with NIST on the chip designs include the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, George Washington University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University.

The latest agreement comes after SkyWater Technology earlier this year received a $15 million infusion from the Department of Defense to develop an open-source design for a 90 nanometer fully depleted silicon on insulator technology. 

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Department of Commerce (DOC), Google Public Sector, microchips, NIST
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