Electronics Point talked to three experts who will be speaking at the event: OneSpin Solutions' Rob van Blommestein, Trinamic Motor Control’s Onno Martens, MINRES Technologies’ Eyck Jentzsch, and GreenWaves Technologies’ Martin Croome.
RISC-V (‘RISC’ standing for ‘Reduced Instruction Set Computer’ and pronounced 'risk-five') is a free and open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) that ensures better adaptability and versatility for engineers and other customers.
Now, with the RISC-V Foundation’s EMEA roadshow just around the corner, this September will see the launch of the ‘Getting Started with RISC-V’ event, whose free, full-day activities are set to show visitors what the technology has to offer.
The logo of the ‘Getting Started with RISC-V’ event. Image courtesy of the RISC-V Foundation.
Alongside OneSpin, Trinamic, MINRES, and GreenWaves, the speakers will include plenty of other members of the RISC-V Foundation: AdaCore, Andes Technology, Imperas, Microchip Technology, SiFive, Syntacore, Thales, and Western Digital—and you can read up on the EMEA events timetable here.
Electronics Point talked with three contributors who will be speaking at the event: head of marketing at OneSpin—which just recently entered a partnership with the RISC-V Foundation—Rob van Blommestein; Trinamic’s IC (Integrated Circuit) Design team leader, Onno Martens; MINRES Technologies’ general manager, Eyck Jentzsch; and GreenWaves Technologies’ vice president of marketing, Martin Croome.
We asked each expert for their thoughts on RISC-V itself, how it benefits engineers—and ultimately, their planned demonstrations for Getting Started with RISC-V.
Sam Holland: Let’s begin with an introduction of each of your positions and duties.
Rob van Blommestein: In my role as head of marketing, I’m responsible for engaging OneSpin in market segments where our technology can make an impact.
Robert van Blommestein, head of marketing at OneSpin Solutions.
In particular, this involves identifying those markets and developing the right communications channels, which altogether allows for two-way communication—to both educate users and gather feedback to create even stronger products.
Onno Martens: I am the team leader of Trinamic’s IC Design team. In this position, I act as a project manager for all of our IC projects.
Onno Martens, team leader of the Integrated Circuit Design Team at Trinamic Motor Control.
In the case of the Rocinante—I also contributed a lot to the digital design components. As for my professional background, I am a digital designer with strong motor and motion control background.
Eyck Jentzsch: I am the general manager and one of the founders of the MINRES Technologies GmbH. During my professional career, I worked for electronic systems, semiconductor, and electronic design automation (EDA) companies, for which I was involved in nearly every aspect of hardware and software design.
Eyck Jentzsch, general manager of MINRES Technologies.
In other words, I have seen the world through the eyes of an IC designer, an embedded software developer, and a design automation specialist.
Along with my colleagues, I’m here to help our customers to implement their virtual platform strategies and to realise the benefits that this brings.
Martin Croome: I’m the vice president of marketing at GreenWaves Technologies.
Martin Croome, vice president of marketing at GreenWaves Technologies.
I joined GreenWaves in 2017 to help manage the company’s business development efforts, and more recently I transitioned to focusing on amplifying our marketing activities.
SH: At this point, before we go into the broader information on RISC-V, a question for Robert alone: as OneSpin recently entered into a partnership with RISC-V, could you tell me what brought this about, as well as the main things that OneSpin feels set to achieve through the RISC-V-OneSpin partnership?
Rob: OneSpin noticed that RISC-V adoption was occurring at a rapid pace, but at the same time, we noticed that verification technologies weren’t keeping pace.
We recognised an opportunity where our unique formal technology could play a significant role in how developers achieve full verification, as well as how users can fully verify the integration. We feel that this benefit allows the RISC-V community greater freedom to expand.
Our partnership that this has led to with the RISC-V Foundation is crucial. By being a part of it, we can be actively involved in discussions around verification to build an educational foothold with the key players in this market.
OneSpin’s logo and slogan: ‘assuring IC integrity’. Image courtesy of OneSpin Solutions’ LinkedIn page.
We recognise that being closely connected to this community is the only way to fully understand its needs, so that we can better provide solutions for it.
SH: Can each of you tell me a bit about your organisational setup and its involvement in the use of the RISC-V architecture?
Rob: OneSpin provides verification solutions to those developing RISC-V processors and those using RISC-V processors in their designs. Our comprehensive verification solution is based on our unique formal technology, which exhaustively and quickly verifies and assures 100% compliance with the RISC-V ISA.
Our solution takes a holistic approach to verify the integrity of the core. For example, our solution addresses not only the functionality of the core, but it also assures that it is safe, trusted, and secure. This is especially critical for RISC-V because of the customisation this technology allows.
Onno: Trinamic develops ICs and miniaturised microsystems for motor and motion control. Aimed at the new generation of software-centric engineers, the easy-to-use building blocks and comprehensive toolkits place industry-leading motion control at your fingertips.
By turning decades of experience and expertise into such plug-and-play building blocks, our ICs and microsystems transform digital information into perfect physical motion. At the moment, our customers always use a microcontroller (MCU) to control these ICs. With our embedded RISC-V core, Rocinante, however, our customers get an integrated MCU into the highly-integrated motor controller in question.
This saves those customers board space, chip count, and costs, altogether allowing a new generation of applications—particularly new, miniaturised applications—that we haven’t seen before.
This saves those customers board space, chip count, and costs, altogether allowing a new generation of applications—particularly new, miniaturised applications—that we haven’t seen before.
Eyck: Our key competency at MINRES is to enable customers to materialise the full benefits of virtual platforms. Virtual platforms allow users to utilise state-of-the-art software development paradigms—for example, test-driven design, continuous integration, agile development, and so on.
All this, overall, results in increased productivity, reduced time to market, and—most notably—the improvement of critical embedded system quality metrics, such as safety, security and reliability.
A couple of years ago, RISC-V attracted our attention as it is available under open, free and non-restrictive licences; and it was therefore a perfect match to demonstrate the power of virtual platforms.
In 2017, we joined the RISC-V Foundation, and since then, we continue to participate in developing the RISC-V ISA specifications—with a special focus on Functional Safety and ISO 26262 compliance.
Martin: GreenWaves is a French startup, founded in 2014 with the mission of revolutionising the market for intelligent sensors and devices with ultra-low energy and cost-efficient solutions.
GreenWaves’ GAP8 is the industry’s first ultra-low-power processor that enables battery-operated AI in IoT (AIoT) applications. GAP8 facilitates a range of smart devices at the very edge of the network: devices such as sensors that interpret images, sounds and vibrations; smart toys; and next-generation wearables.
GAP8 builds on open-source components from the Parallel Ultra Low Power (PULP) Platform at ETH Zurich, Switzerland and the University of Bologna, Italy. PULP itself uses processor cores that implement the RISC-V ISA.
SH: For engineers, what do you feel is the key value of attending in-person workshops such as Getting Started with RISC-V?
Rob: There is tremendous value in seeing technology presented to you in person. The nature of these workshops allows for greater discussion and collaboration with leads—to ensure an overall increased level of education for both attendees and presenters.
It is this two-way communication that helps to build sustainable use models for open-source technology.
Onno: I think it is key to learn from other designers’ hands-on experience when getting started with new technology. These valuable insights save users doing their own research for a component, which is expensive and time-intense.
In fact, especially with RISC-V’s possibilities, the benefits of this could be overwhelming: we started easy with the Rocinante and didn’t add any special features on the core. For later products, we can improve performance with all the options RISC-V offers.
Eyck: In general, Getting Started with RISC-V is no different than attending any workshop or conference. It’s about meeting, learning, networking, sharing—and hopefully fun.
However, this workshop also distinguishes itself by addressing the most important aspects of entering the RISC-V bandwagon for industry-grade applications, presented by pioneering companies that have bet part of their future on the success of RISC-V.
Experiencing this commitment, excitement and enthusiasm first-hand is an invaluable way to get information to make more informed decisions.
Martin: The RISC-V roadshow will enable engineers to learn about the breadth of the RISC-V ecosystem and the myriad ways they can design new products and solutions with RISC-V-based solutions.
Engineers will also be able to network with other RISC-V enthusiasts driving the next era of silicon innovation.
SH: How do you find engineers interact with open-source projects like RISC-V?
Rob: Our experience at OneSpin has been that such engineers crave new technology, such as RISC-V, that will help them compete better. RISC-V gives engineers greater control over their designs and allows them to innovate on top of the technology. Generally speaking, in fact, our engineering community is very open to adopting the technology.
Onno: At Trinamic, we are going open-source for more and more projects. This is already ongoing with parts of our software and board-level products. Open-source enables our customers to quickly get to their motion control solution. This is part of our business model. Time to market is as crucial to our customers as it is to us.
Eyck: When people talk about open-source, they usually refer to free and open-source software—a model that liberates otherwise-restrictive IP to a global community.
In fact, nowadays, most companies and users—whether they know it or not—rely on the use of open-source software in one way or another.
Open-source software has proven to result in superior, more robust and innovative designs, lower associated costs due to continuous improvements, and so on.
However, at its crux, RISC-V is an open-source hardware project. And it is important to note that conventional business models for hardware sales are based on proprietary products that are protected by intellectual property: IP related to the product as a trade secret, or patent, etc.—there to provide an exclusive right to make or sell the product.
Even so, there are still long-lasting efforts to create an open-source hardware ecosystem, and the results of this are rather sobering for many reasons: consider the complexity of the hardware development process, the costs of EDA tools, IP, manufacturing, and so on.
Ultimately, the difference between open-source software and open-source hardware comes down to a cost challenge. As someone once expressed it: “Bits are cheap; atoms are expensive”. With RISC-V, however, there is—for the first time—a global industry-wide effort to make open-hardware successful, with RISC-V being the focal point.
Martin: I’ve seen that engineers around the world—from Europe to North America, and to China and beyond—are actively participating in the vibrant RISC-V community and are excited about the possibilities that RISC-V is enabling.
SH: As a follow up on that last question: on a more general level, what do you consider to be the main benefits of contributing to a free and open-source collective?
Rob: Again, for OneSpin it is the opportunity to serve a market that is in need of a comprehensive verification solution. So, many solutions on the market can only address standardised processors, as opposed to being able to tackle the diversity and customisation that RISC-V has to offer.
Onno: I’d say there are 5 key points here:
Availability: you have access to source codes with privileges to analyse and modify. This is extremely helpful compared to a black-box approach.
Costs: licence costs are near to zero. You don’t even have to sign contracts.
Time: you can start today. As mentioned before, time to market is crucial, after all.
Community: with joint forces of the community, you can improve the design. This directly increases your capabilities.
IP protection: if your design is already open-source, you don’t need to protect its intellectual property. No costs for patents.
Eyck: Well, “standing on the shoulders of giants” describes it pretty well. The big advantage of open-source is that a lot of people get involved and participate: I can build on it, for example, while not having to have the expertise in all areas.
On the other hand, there is a duty to contribute to the ecosystem in order to make and maintain its status as a living community.
A slide taken from a RISC-V presentation on the history and background of the RISC-V Foundation. Image courtesy of the RISC-V Foundation.
Martin: The extensibility of the RISC-V ISA has enabled GreenWaves to add custom digital signal processing, vector and bit manipulation instructions to its GAP8 AIoT application processor.
As a result, GreenWaves was able to design its GAP8 with 20 times the energy reduction when compared to competing products. In addition to the design benefits of RISC-V, the rich ecosystem of RISC-V solutions has helped GreenWaves innovate faster and more efficiently.
SH: Many of our readers are (European) electronics and electrical engineers (EEEs); could you tell me what qualities of RISC-V you consider to be the most attractive to EEEs—and why?
Rob: RISC-V provides flexibility where other processors cannot. It can be much cheaper to work with RISC-V while also embracing the customisation that the technology allows.
However, these virtues come at a cost in terms of being confident that the core operates as intended—and doesn’t allow for Trojans to make their way into the design, for example. We feel that RISC-V will continue to be embraced, but only if engineers feel they can fully verify it.
Onno: RISC-V is a fast and easy-going way to integrate an MCU. It is definitely powerful, scalable, and easy to customise, offering a completely new way of designing system-on-chips (SoCs).
Consider the user who needs to speed up a certain piece of code: the solution here is that they add some hardware to their processor core and end up having a truly superior solution, particularly when compared to simply increasing the core frequency.
Especially in low and medium volume applications, RISC-V has so many benefits compared to commercial approaches.
Eyck: The answer to this is in regards to the way the technology makes design cost and efforts less processor-centric. Consider free resources for innovation on top of the processor, namely by tailoring the ISA to a specific domain or adding tightly-coupled accelerators—which altogether allows for differentiation.
Martin: RISC-V offers a number of benefits, including its openness, simplicity, clean-slate design, modularity, extensibility, and stability.
EEEs can also take advantage of the option to implement extensions for RISC-V so they can optimise and customise designs based on their specific application needs.
Plus, if engineers want to bring machine learning inference to the very edge of the network, they can use our GAP8 AIoT application processor.
SH: On a closing note, what will you be presenting throughout the RISC-V Roadshow and what are your main aims throughout the event?
Rob: By participating in the RISC-V Roadshow, our goal at OneSpin is to educate RISC-V developers and users on how to fully verify their designs effectively and efficiently so they can compete with more established processors.
We’ll show attendees how to assure their designs are safe, trusted, and secure. The RISC-V community is growing at a tremendous pace and we are excited to be at the forefront of that growth—and to be actively involved with the RISC-V Foundation to promote the technology and all its benefits.
Onno: I will present Trinamic’s RISC-V development board, the Dock5, which is a prototyping board for our Rocinante. Right now, it holds a field-programmable gate array to emulate the later IC. It shows the concept of the Rocinante and offers comparable performance, along with nearly all the relevant interfaces and features.
The technology demonstrates to the world that RISC-V is ready to go to mass production, and we will offer the Rocinante on an open market. We’ve learned that a lot of companies are using RISC-V in their own ICs, but they don’t open it for customers. This is where we go our own way.
Eyck: Our primary aim at MINRES is to promote the use of virtual platforms in RISC-V-based SoC hardware and embedded software development processes.
While virtual platforms are well established in major semiconductor companies, we found that such an approach is rather unknown for new systems companies of any size and application domain, such as IoT device manufacturers, home appliance companies, and machine engineering companies, to name a few.
These companies rely more and more on custom SoC designs and represent, therefore, a significant potential for RISC-V. So, all in all, we see virtual platforms as a key element in facilitating the adoption of RISC-V—especially in embedded systems.
Martin: During the roadshow, I’ll be presenting the session named ‘Machine Learning on Battery Operated Devices at the Very Edge Using a Multi-core RISC-V Based Processor’.
Attendees will learn about how GreenWaves enables small autonomous devices and sensors at the very edge of the network to exploit embedded machine learning and signal processing—enabling the design of new and innovative IoT applications.
We look forward to teaching participants about the incredible possibilities that GAP8 enables, and hopefully inspire them to use GAP8 in their designs.
Our big thanks to Rob van Blommestein, Onno Marten, Eyck Jentzsch, and Martin Croome for their thoughts on Getting Started with RISC-V. And of course, the RISC-V Foundation itself.
The popularity of RISC-V and the size of its community are growing at an increasing rate, and we look forward to hearing the exciting announcements from the foundation’s EMEA roadshow.