[Libre-silicon-devel] NLnet 2019 grant approved for Libre RISC-V SoC development, CFP

lkcl at lkcl.net lkcl at lkcl.net
Tue Apr 9 08:02:01 CEST 2019

i'm delighted to be able to say that we've passed the review process to 
receive a grant for development of the Libre RISC-V SoC [1] under the 2019 
NLnet "Enhanced Privacy and Trust" Programme [2].

the SoC is specifically to be designed in a fully transparent fashion at 
all times (HDL and software), so that there is absolutely no possibility of 
claims that it contains, for example, NSA spying backdoor co-processors [3] 
or other hidden means and methods by which user privacy is routinely 
violated by the technology that they legitimately purchase.

in addition to that the full software and hardware stack transparency 
(including in the VPU and GPU) not only aids learning and understanding in 
educational circles, the business case for full transparency is very clear: 
it's a simple matter of drastically reducing time spent on debugging hard 
to track down errors in extremely complex bug-ridden proprietary drivers [4]

examples abound of 3D or proprietary video decoders that have hard-coded 
assumptions that, due to the highly-integrated nature of SoCs, can 
eliminate a SoC entirely from consideration based not on the capabilities 
of the *hardware* but on the total lack of *software transparency*.

basically after ten years we got fed up of waiting around for the Industry 
Incumbents to design something that allows a fully transparent software 
stack... so, insanely, we have to make one [5]

we aim to bust through as many of the triple-layers of NDAs involved in 
ASIC development as we can get and still have a viable successful 
mass-volume embedded product, suitable for use in low-power products such 
as tablets, smartphones, mid-range netbooks and chromebooks, industrial 
devices and more.

in technical terms, that means a hybrid CPU / VPU / GPU and a SMP quad-core 
800mhz dual/quad-issue out-of-order execution engine (based around the 
58-year-old CDC 6600 design), with 1/2/4/8-wide SIMD ALUs hidden 
transparently behind a Vector Processing front-end, and custom instructions 
created where needed to give the software 3D and VPU drivers the 
performance and power-saving boost needed to meet the modest target of 3D 
and video 720p at 25fps, in an under *2.5* watt power budget for the entire 

it is extremely ambitious for a libre-licensed project (OR1200 tops out at 
around 250mhz and is not SMP) and we have Mitch Alsup (the designer of the 
Motorola 68000) to thank for the discussions that made understanding OoO 

so that is some background.

the reason i am writing is to invite anyone who would like to help out - 
and receive some financial incentive (cash or shares [6]) for doing so - to 
get in touch and participate as we sort out the list of tasks to be done 

the grant is limited to $EUR 50,000 in this first round, and the final 
amount will depend on what milestones are agreed with the NLnet Foundation, 
hence why it is important to reach out *now* and invite people to help 
clarify the tasks, and make it clear which ones they would like to tackle.  
do bear in mind that the conditions required by the NLnet Foundation are 
payment on *completion* of agreed Milestones, so if they are particularly 
large tasks, subdivision will be crucial.

it's worth noting that the two main developers have circumstances that 
leads them to only require around USD $1000-1500 a month each, and that, 
after this first funding round is successfully completed it will be 
possible to apply for a much larger grant next year.

so we cannot go completely financially mad: the NLnet Foundation will just 
say "no" to anything such as a $25k proposal to develop a given peripheral, 
for example, however there is definitely room for e.g.:

* students who are doing a software or hardware engineering degree, always 
wanted to develop a processor and would like a way to supplement their 
income as an additional bonus, or
* people already working full-time or part-time: one person is already 
donating their time at weekends to develop the TLB, Virtual Memory, and L1 
and L2 Cache infrastructure for example (and doing a really good job of it, 

and many others.  so here's the conditions:

* the project is developed under the Libre-RISCV Charter, which you will 
need to agree to: http://libre-riscv.org/charter/discussion/
* full transparency means: no aspect of the SoC is to be developed by 
engaging in private or secret discussions.  this constitutes "having 
something to hide" and would seriously undermine user trust (and would 
violate the terms of the NLnet grant).
* in turn, that means that, as things stand, given that we are pushing the 
boundaries of innovation in RISC-V, if you have signed the RISC-V 
Membership Agreement there will be a conflict of interest that may prevent 
you from meeting the "full transparency" requirements, given that the 
RISC-V lists are *closed and secret*.
* the code is being developed as a python "nmigen" application.  you will 
need to be willing to learn nmigen as well as python. there are plenty of 
tutorials and a lot of code, now.
* the coding standards are to meet pep8 (all of it, using autopep8, so it 
is not burdensome: just run a command), and for the code to be *readable 
and understandable*.  examples are here [8] and here [9].
* good engineering development practices such as working out and writing 
specifications and agreeing them with the team, writing unit tests *at the 
time of developing the code*, and not engaging in "I Will Commit It When 
It's Finished" will be required.  python is hairy enough as it is.

basically we are applying all the best aspects of team-based libre 
*software* development to *hardware*, and for anyone who wanted to know 
what that's like, but never encountered it before in a comprehensive 
multi-person *hardware* project before, now's your chance.

so if that sounds of interest, do get in touch, and join the mailing list 

also, if there is anyone who knows of "Social Enterprise" or "Benefit 
Corporation" style VC funding, or, recognising the benefits that a 
libre/open design approach brings to SoCs and to users, if you would like 
to sponsor the project, we'd love to hear from you too.  yes we have a 
crowdsupply page in the pre-pre-launch phase [11].


[1] https://libre-riscv.org/3d_gpu/
[2] NLnet.nl/PET/
[3] or, if there are, the full source of said NSA spying backdoor 
co-processor is made available, by the NSA, under a libre license, 
including associated private crypto keys, so that anyone can learn all 
about spying on *themselves*. this is what is termed "a humorous joke".
[4] http://www.h-online.com/open/news/item/Intel-and-Valve-collaborate-to-develop-open-source-graphics-drivers-1649632.html
[5] https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop/updates/picking-a-processor
[6] https://slicingpie.com
[8] https://git.libre-riscv.org/?p=ieee754fpu.git;a=blob;f=src/add/singlepipe.py;h=bd0d6edab2bd01efd6ea69fb87c292c43f2197bd;hb=HEAD
[9] https://git.libre-riscv.org/?p=soc.git;a=blob;f=TLB/src/TLB.py;h=3538bdc1dcab904c0ea803fac903493939007852
[10] http://lists.libre-riscv.org/mailman/listinfo/libre-riscv-dev
[11] https://www.crowdsupply.com/libre-risc-v/m-class

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