Google and Qualcomm team up for wearable devices chip

18 Oct 2023

Image: © graphicINmotion/

The new chip powered by open-source RISC-V technology could help level the playing field in the contentious semiconductor space.

Chipmaker Qualcomm and Google are extending their partnership by working together on a new chip for wearables using RISC-V technology.

RISC-V, pronounced ‘risk-five’, is an open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) used for the development of custom processors in a variety of applications, including supercomputers and wearable devices.

Qualcomm said its new chip will be the first-ever mass-market RISC-V Android system-on-a-chip, which could mark a step towards bringing RISC-V compatible central processing units (CPUs) to the ecosystem.

The chipmaker plans to commercialise the RISC-V-based wearables platform globally including in the US, where geopolitical chip competition continues to heat up. This expanded framework will help pave the way for more products within the ecosystem to take advantage of custom CPUs.

Bjorn Kilburn, general manager of Wear OS by Google, said: “Qualcomm Technologies have been a pillar of the Wear OS ecosystem, providing high-performance, low-power systems for many of our OEM partners.

“We are excited to extend our work with Qualcomm Technologies and bring a RISC-V wearable solution to market.”

Both Google and Qualcomm recently joined other industry leaders to launch the RISC-V Software Ecosystem, while Qualcomm invested in a new company to advance RISC-V hardware development.

Dino Bekis, vice-president and general manager of wearables and mixed-signal solutions at Qualcomm said: “We are excited to leverage RISC-V and expand our Snapdragon Wear platform as a leading silicon provider for Wear OS.”

The wider chip ecosystem

The advancement in RISC-V could also be seen as a significant step towards opening up the semiconductor marketplace, particularly in competition with UK semiconductor company Arm.

While Arm and RISC-V are both ISAs, Arm is a proprietary ISA that must be licensed. RISC-V, by contrast, is a totally open source and royalty free, allowing any company to develop completely custom cores, creating increased innovation and competition.

The semiconductor industry has been in the spotlight in recent years as deep and emerging technologies advance, increasing the need for advances in the computer chip arena.

A global chip shortage drew attention to an over-reliance on a few key industry players, particularly in Asia, for the world’s supply and western regions have responded by pouring significant investment into their own ecosystems.

The EU has established its own Chips Act, while the UK unveiled a £1bn semiconductor strategy earlier this year.

The US, meanwhile, is at loggerheads with China, having continuously escalated export restrictions to the country in recent months. Just yesterday (17 October), the US Department of Commerce announced that it also planned to curb the sale of more advanced artificial intelligence chips to China.

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic