Embedded and cyber-physical systems have become small, versatile and powerful. They are used in a wide range of application areas, from smart homes to communications, transportation and manufacturing.
This versatility requires an adaptable and flexible architecture, as different application areas bring different requirements.
Unfortunately, the architecture of processors available on the market is dominated by a few manufacturers. Their systems are proprietary, closed, and protected by patents. This makes it difficult to develop new processors and systems-on-chip for new applications, and thus represents an obstacle to innovation. How can we surmount this hurdle?
RISC-V and its advantages
Inspired by the success of open source software (such as the Linux operating system, which forms the core of the Android mobile phone operating system), open designs for hardware have recently emerged. Among these, the RISC-V architecture has gained tremendous momentum over the last years.
RISC-V has been under development at the University of California, Berkeley since 2010. It is an instruction set architecture, which means that it defines the instructions a microprocessor can be programmed with, and how the microprocessor presents itself to the software (which registers it has and how they are to be used, for example).
For this architecture, different manufacturers can provide hardware implementations (processors) on the one hand, and software manufacturers can develop programs that run on them on the other. The open, standardised and patent-free architecture thus allows a broad, rich ecosystem of hardware and software.
The main advantages of the RISC-V architecture are:
- it is scalable and can be adapted to the respective requirements with different word widths;
- it is modular and flexibly expandable;
- and it is future-proof because it is standardised, vendor-independent and open.
The Cyber-Physical Systems research area of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence is contributing to the success of RISC-V in the following projects: