Shashwath TR (L), CEO and co-founder, along with Sharan Jagathrakshakan, co-founder, Mindgrove Technologies
RISC-V (reduced instruction set computer V, pronounced risk-five) started out as a research project at the University of California, Berkeley, around 2010.
Today, it’s a popular, globally adopted open-source instruction set architecture, as computer scientists and engineers call these rules that interface software and hardware.
RISC-V is helping to lower the barriers of entry erected by companies that have amassed proprietary chip design IP (intellectual property) that they licence—only the world’s biggest tech companies can afford that, and even they are investing heavily in building their own chips. Apple Silicon is perhaps the best-known example.
And the iPhone maker’s recent extension of a deal to continue to buy 5G modems from Qualcomm, shows how difficult it is to develop a chip from scratch—even a trillion-dollar company hasn’t cracked the modems yet. This is why efforts like RISC-V are a godsend for India.
A nascent RISC-V ecosystem is coming up in India comprising engineering teams such as those led by professor V Kamakoti at IIT-Madras, father of the Shakti microprocessors, startups such as Mindgrove Technologies that are developing commercial systems-on-chip (SoC), based on Shakti core, and VC (venture capital) firms such as Speciale Invest and Peak XV Partners who are backing such startups with seed money.
Shashwath TR and Sharan Srinivas Jagathrakshakan started Mindgrove, incubated at IIT-Madras, to build their SoCs for applications in IoT (Internet of Things), computer vision and automotive sectors.
“Our first chip is targeted for devices like biometric systems, consumer appliances and other embedded use cases,” Jagathrakshakan says.
And “we are currently in the end stages of getting our first prototype out”, Shashwath adds. Also read: Altigreen: Making EV impact for greener logistics
“Tape out”, which is semiconductor industry jargon for making the physical chip, could be out as early as November. If all goes well, that chip should be ready to go into a circuit board and it should just work.
If there are flaws, it could be as bad as going back to the drawing board. The duo is developing two more SoCs.
“The clamour for chips designed for India, by India is growing every day, and Mindgrove could become an important company in an inevitable market trend towards sovereignty in chip design,” Peak XV’s Anandamoy Rowchowdhary, Vedant Trivedi and Sidhant Goyal wrote in a blog post in May, briefly discussing their “thesis” as VC investors like to say.
In June, Mindgrove also announced a partnership with Imagination Technologies, a UK-based semiconductor design licensing company.
Under the partnership, Mindgrove will get access to IP owned by Imagination that will help Mindgrove build its own graphics processors and artificial intelligence accelerators..”