News

Students coded an open-source microprocessor that companies can use as they wish

The new processor is suitable, for example, for 6G transceivers and encryption technology. The project encourages young people to study microelectronics; skills that are in high demand in Finland.
Eturivissä opiskelijat Otto Simola, Verneri Hirvonen ja Julius Helander. Takarivissä professori Jussi Ryynänen ja vanhempi yliopistonlehtori Marko Kosunen. Kuva: Niina Norjamäki
In front from left students Otto Simola, Verneri Hirvonen and Julius Helander. Back from left Professor Jussi Ryynänen and Senior University Lecturer Marko Kosunen. Photo: Niina Norjamäki

In September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called on Europe to take action to strengthen the European semiconductor industry. Semiconductors include microprocessors, which are needed in almost all technologies today, from remote controls to cars and airplanes.

Earlier in the summer, a group of Aalto University microelectronics students implemented a hardware description of a RISC-V microprocessor by coding it and have now published it openly online. The work is based on the open-source RISC-V processor architecture developed at the University of Berkeley, says Marko Kosunen, who also worked at Berkeley and supervised the students' work.

“A team of four technical students coded it during the summer. Now the processor is at a stage where it could be manufactured.”

Coding and verifying the processor was a great summer job, say Julius Helander, Leo Uusimäki and Otto Simola.

“It's hard to imagine a better outcome: Concrete design, and the code will live on in the future as part of the project.”

Verneri Hirvonen, who has done a bachelor's thesis on the subject, agrees.

“The development of the processor and the construction of its verification environment provides the students an opportunity to use of the skills we’ve acquired in the early stages of our studies in programming and electronics.”

From closed to open

The rise of Nokia's mobile phones in the 1990s was based on strong microelectronics expertise, which was built in, among other places, the Helsinki University of Technology's circuit technology laboratory. Although the manufacturing of microelectronics and processors - and later telephones - was abandoned, much of the know-how related to the field remained in Finland.

Currently, the design and manufacture of the microprocessors needed by the world is firmly in the possession of the large American and Asian corporate giants. Processors are mainly closed and patented systems, which means that companies that buy and use them do not have the opportunity to make changes to them.

“If someone decides to do so and succeeds, they will probably infringe the patent and license, and will be responsible for it in court,” says Kosunen.

The operation of the microprocessor is controlled by an instruction set. It is a technical document that defines how a microprocessor should respond to instructions passed to it. The instruction sets of large manufacturers such as Intel and ARM are encrypted. The RISC-V instruction set, coded by Aalto students, is open, accessible to everyone and designed to be modified and expanded to suit their own needs. Kosunen emphasises that this is only a single-core processor. For example, in artificial intelligence applications, there can be tens or hundreds of cores. However, the advantage of an open processor is the flexibility that allows Aalto's processor to work in different environments.

“It will work on accelerators for encryption algorithms and signal processing, network devices, 6G and then 7G transceivers,” Kosunen says.

“Basically, it can control anything.”

High demand in the industry

The idea of designing our own microprocessor arose a year and a half ago at a meeting between Jussi Ryynänen, professor of microelectronics design, and representatives from Nokia. There is a growing need for processor design expertise, and interest in processor development in an open environment. In addition to Nokia, the project involves Saab, CoreHW, Xiphera and Minima Processor, and is partly funded by Business Finland.

“Our goal is to train Finland's best designers in analogue, digital and hybrid microelectronics systems and to include processor design as part of doctoral training in microelectronics,” says Ryynänen, who emphasises that this is a strategic area for Finland and Europe.

“Without our own design expertise, we are at the mercy of what microelectronics manufacturers in the United States and Taiwan offer us.”

More information:

Professor Jussi Ryynänen, Aalto University
tel +358 50 384 1720
[email protected]

Senior University Lecturer Marko Kosunen
tel +358 50 375 1711
[email protected]

Aallon opiskelijoiden laitteistokuvaus on kuin mikroprosessorin ohjelmallinen valmistusohje, jota yritykset tai muut käyttäjät voivat halutessaan muokata omiin tarpeisiinsa ja valmistaa sitten itse tai antaa valmistuksen muiden käsin. Lähdekoodiin versionhallinta osoitteessa https://gitlab.com/a-core. Kuva: Niina Norjamäki
Photo: Niina Norjamäki

Aalto's students' hardware description is like a software manufacturing guide for a microprocessor, which companies or other users can modify to their own needs and then manufacture themselves or leave the manufacturing to others.
Source code version control at https://gitlab.com/a-core.

  • Published:
  • Updated:
Share
URL copied!

Read more news

The design space in the virtual reality task
Press releases, Research & Art Published:

Designers find better solutions with computer assistance, but sacrifice creative touch

Computer-guided design can propose more solutions and balance out human inexperience and design fixation
A night sky with the northern lights visible behind the silhouettes of trees. / Yötaivas, jossa revontulet näkyvät puiden siluettien takana.
Press releases Published:

The aurora borealis can be heard even when they can’t be seen

Recordings reveal sounds linked with geomagnetic activity that’s too weak to cause northern lights at the same spot
Ensimmäinen kuva Linnunradan keskellä olevasta mustasta aukosta. Kuva: EHT Collaboration
Press releases Published:

Astronomers reveal first image of the black hole at the heart of our galaxy

Researchers from Aalto University, the University of Turku and the Finnish Centre for Astronomy with ESO were part of the international research group in taking a revolutionary picture.
Aalto_glass_challenge_2018_Jaea Chang_Glass_Lake_Photo_Anne_Kinnunen_KDQ0207.jpg
Press releases Published:

Kone Foundation donates 800 000 euros to Aalto University's area of art and design

With this donation, the foundation wants to support research in the arts and artistic research in particular. The aim is to safeguard the diversity of disciplines and freedom of research in fields of education that have suffered from funding cuts and educational policy prioritisation.