Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, October 5, 2022

DARPA Expands Access to Chip IP 

The Pentagon’s premiere R&D agency is expanding an initiative designed to provide technology startups with broader access to semiconductor and other intellectual property in hopes of stimulating innovation.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said this week it has recruited two additional corporate partners to provide access to IP. Verific Design Automation and CEVA Inc. have signed on to DARPA Toolbox, joining chip IP vendor Arm, which helped launch the licensing effort last summer.

The initial commercial partnership giver DARPA researchers access to Arm’s commercial technologies under a three-year deal.

DARPA contractors “are frequently encumbered by having to negotiate access to tools, IP and services, and execute complex legal agreements that take the time away from what they do best—advancing science to benefit the nation,” said Serge Leef, the DARPA program manager overseeing the IP effort.

“Through DARPA Toolbox, we are working to effectively lower the high barrier to entry with the goal of encouraging more proposals from non-traditional and resource-constrained organizations that can bring innovative insights and ideas to bear on DARPA programs,” Leef added.

Verific announced Wednesday (Dec. 16) that it would provide “community access” to its chip design tools, including hardware description language software. Other design software included in the agreement includes front-end tools for simulating and verifying chip designs along with virtual prototyping and circuit de-bugging.

“Our support of academic use over the years has been on an ad-hoc basis,” said Michiel Ligthart, the president and CEO of the Alameda, Calif.-based Verific. “This agreement provides DARPA-funded programs easy and streamlined access to our industry-standard SystemVerilog parsers and elaborators.” SystemVerilog is a hardware description and verification language used to simulate IC designs.

Leef said access to the EDA tools would eliminate the need for researchers to develop their own front-end chip design software.

The expanded DARPA program, an outgrowth of the agency’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative, also adds access to CEVA’s AI and digital signal processor IP along with wireless connectivity and smart sensing technologies. The agency said licensees could apply those tools to applications ranging from machine vision to 5G wireless baseband processing.

Based in Rockville, Md., CEVA's (NASDAQ: CEVA) portfolio includes a low-power AI processor architecture for deep learning inference and computer vision workloads. CEVA recently partnered with RISC-V chip designer SiFive to develop an edge AI chip.

DARPA said its Toolbox program would provide its research contractors “deeply discounted” access to commercial IP from Arm, CEVA and Verific.

“The current focus is on partnering with companies that would largely benefit our research efforts in [DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office], but it could expand beyond that,” an agency spokeswoman said.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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