OpenCores rides again in the RISC-V era

November 27, 2018 // By Peter Clarke
Europe's scientific community is helping to support a portal for access to free-to-use open-source cores with financial assistance for the OpenCores organization.

With the emergence of RISC-V in 2016 and 2017 open source hardware became a hot topic once again and a startup called Oliscience BV (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) was formed in 2017 to look after the OpenCores website and community. As a result, OpenCores, which was originally founded in 1999, is embarking on its third phase of ownership and is planning to emerge from a quiet period that lasted for several years.

In 2017, with support from Nikhef, the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics, Andrea Borga, a digital designer at the Nikhef electronics technology department, and colleagues, acquired ownership of the OpenCores website, control of the various files and formed Oliscience. The amount paid to previous owners for OpenCores has not been disclosed.

Oliscience is a contraction of open logic interconnects science, which reflects the company's origins in Europe's scientific community. The company's formation also reflects the fact that scientific researchers are frequent users of free IP cores and that they did not want to see OpenCores atrophy or disappear.

Borga had been a user of the OpenCores.org website, which provides "gateware" – the downloadable files for intellectual property (IP) cores – on multiple functions.

Gateware is the term used to describe the layer in electronic engineering that lies between the physical components – such as ICs and PCBs, and firmware. The description of FPGAs in particular determines at run-time how a circuit is connected in the FPGA. But hardware descriptions for ASICs are also transferrable between foundries and processes and can be thought of as "gateware."

At the time of the formation of Oliscience in 2017 Jan Visser, Nikhef's industrial liaison officer, said: "The transfer of knowledge and technology to industry, civil society and the general public is an integral part of Nikhef’s mission. That is why Nikhef supports Oliscience as an initiative, as well as its attempt to empower the OpenCores portal and community."

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