Report calls for European FPGA tools to boost open source hardware

September 06, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
Report calls for European FPGA tools to boost open source hardware
Open source FPGA tools, a non-proprietary bitstream format and a European centre of excellence are needed to boost Open Source hardware (OSH) says report

The European Commission has published a report on the impact of Open Source on the European economy, highlighting the need to boost open source hardware (OSH)

The report estimates that companies located in the EU invested around €1bn in Open Source Software in 2018, which brought about a positive impact on the European economy of between €65 and €95bn. Boosting the role of OSH could bring similar, significant benefits, says the report.

The study, written by Fraunhofer ISI and Oopen Source Europe, predicts that an increase of 10% in contributions to Open Source Software code would annually generate an additional 0.4% to 0.6% GDP, as well as more than 600 additional ICT start-ups in the EU. While open source software, particularly Linux, is well established, open source hardware (OSH) is significantly behind it says.

“A barrier to the development of Open Source projects is the availability of tooling, both in the physical sense (e.g. mills, lathes, presses, workspaces) and in the digital sense (e.g. design software, compiler toolchains, simulators, debuggers). In the world of Open Source Software, much of the tooling is either now itself Open Source Software (and therefore available free of charge), or is available at very low cost (e.g. Apple’s XCode development environment). In the world of open hardware, the same is not true,” says the report.

This needs open source FPGA tools and a non-proprietary bitstream format.

One area of research in OSH which could be investigated is that development of a standardised intermediate language for silicon chip development. The development in chip technologies has been inhibited by the heavy involvement of incompatible proprietary languages promoted by the various EDA companies says the report, although Verilog does act as a low level standard.

The implementation of a single intermediate language which subsequently compiles to Verilog would present an opportunity not only for designs to interoperate more freely, but for this to operate as a platform for greater language abstraction.

Number of companies mentioning Open Source Hardware per country

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