Google expands its open-source chip initiative with new partnership

9 Aug 2022

Image: © Buffik/

Google has partnered with GlobalFoundries to release an open-source PDK for chip designers in a ‘milestone’ for the foundry ecosystem.

Tech giant Google is leading an open-source initiative to build a “thriving ecosystem” in chip design and manufacturing.

It has partnered with multiple organisations to develop process design kits (PDKs) and associated tooling, with the goal of letting any developer create manufacturable silicon designs.

The programme is now being expanded further as Google has brought chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries on as a partner. The tech giant said it “cannot understate the milestone” that the partnership represents for the foundry ecosystem.

The partners have released a PDK for the GlobalFoundries 180 micro controller unit (MCU) technology platform under the free Apache 2.0 licence, along with a “silicon realisation” program to help designers manufacture open-source designs.

Google said the 180nm application space is growing, with a market traction in motor controller, RFID, general purpose MCUs and power management integrated circuits, along with emerging applications such as IoT sensors.

“The collaboration between GlobalFoundries and Google will help drive innovation for the application and silicon engineers designing in these high-growth areas, and is an unambiguous affirmation of the viability of the open-source model for the foundry ecosystem,” Google said in a blogpost.

Applications using 180nm are at a global capacity of more than 16m wafers a year, a figure that is expected to grow to more than 22m in 2026 according to GlobalFoundries.

Google has been partnered with SkyWater Technology for two years as part of this open-source initiative. Last month, Google said it has sponsored six shuttles on the Efabless platform to date, manufacturing 240 designs at no cost from more than 364 community submissions.

This announcement came as Google revealed it is expanding the open-source partnership to 90nm semiconductor technology, after SkyWater received $15m in funding from the US Department of Defense.

Chip crunch

Various factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic and an over-reliance on key industry partners have contributed to a global chip shortage in recent years, impacting various industries.

There have been a number of recent developments to expand chip production around the world and reduce the reliance on specific supply chains.

GlobalFoundries announced an expansion to its semiconductor manufacturing agreement with Qualcomm this week to help secure the US supply chain.

It came after the CHIPS and Science Act passed in the US Congress, setting aside $52bn in funding and subsidies to boost US semiconductor manufacturing and compete with Asian rivals.

Europe is also looking to become a leader in semiconductors, with companies such as Intel making significant investments. Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Italy has nearly closed a $5bn deal with Intel to build an advanced semiconductor packaging and assembly plant in the country.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic