Adafruit Becomes a Member of the RISC-V Foundation

Alasdair Allan
2 months ago

Back at the start of the year, we saw the Raspberry Pi Foundation join the RISC-V Foundation as a member, which started a lot of unfounded rumours that the next Raspberry Pi might be built around a RISC-V core. Now the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been joined by Adafruit Industries.

Just like Raspberry Pi, Adafruit joined as a Silver Member. The RISC-V Foundation has a tiered membership structure, with the Silver membership level giving the participating organisation one vote per open position on the Foundation’s board, and allowing them to participate in the Foundation task groups and contribute to the upkeep of the RISC-V ISA.

The Silver membership level is the lowest of the ‘corporate’ membership levels offered by the RISC-V Foundation, and carries yearly membership dues of $5,000. Members at this level are not eligible to chair technical committees, or task groups, or stand as candidates for the Foundation’s governing board.

We sat down and talked with Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit Industries, about the move and what it might mean for the company and their product line.

Why is Adafruit joining the RISC-V Foundation?
We’re joining the RISC-V foundation because we’ve been making open source hardware for over a decade and open source chips are a new frontier for us to explore and support.
Why is Adafruit joining the Foundation now rather than previously?
We finally have started designing with some RISC-V processors that are available and thought, “Wow, this is so cool, let’s join the foundation to show our enthusiasm.”
What niche does RISC-V fill in the ecosystem?
RISC-V is a perfect core for entry level chip designers who want an open, supported core with a good toolchain. It’s also great for mass manufacturers and white-goods makers who need a fast general purpose processor to tack peripherals on top of.
How does RISC-V compare with Arm architectures?
Both have benefits — Arm is well established, trusted and has a wide range of cores to build upon. RISC-V is new, maybe a little exciting, but has a lot of potential. There’s plenty of use cases for both chipsets.
How do you see RISC-V fitting into the Adafruit range of products?
We’re going to start by introducing RISC-V-based chips to our Feather line of boards — there’s about 100 different mainboards, daughterboards, and accessories, so people can quickly get started integrating displays, sensors, and robotics with a RISC-V core.
We think for making machine learning co-processors, RISC-V could be a great asset — you need a fast chip with some extra peripherals. So definitely researchers will be building a lot on that topic. We’ll see a “GitHub for RISC-V add-ons” (probably just GitHub) so that designers can share their custom, open, peripherals and optimizations.
Is the fact RISC-V open source really that important?
Yes it is! Open source is the ultimate disruptor — allowing anyone to experiment without risk or upfront investment. When you have a nice architecture like RISC-V it only makes it more exciting, I predict we’ll see a “Cambrian explosion” of semiconductor manufacturers making all sorts of cool, weird, and innovative new chips.
How will you take advantage of the open source nature of RISC-V?
We’re excited to load up and create a custom core on an FPGA, and see if we can make our own processor, something we’ve never done before.

No doubt we’ll hear more about the announcement directly from Adafruit given time, and while their new board won’t be the first Feather-compatible board with a RISC-V core, I’m interested to see how they roll RISC-V out. Especially given the interest in machine learning we’ve seen from Adafruit lately, and Fried’s speculation around that.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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