India Launches Digital India RISC-V Microprocessor (DIR-V) Program for Next Generation Microprocessors

Posted by Written by Naina Bhardwaj Reading Time: 3 minutes

India recently announced its DIR-V program to catalyze the country’s semiconductor ecosystem through mass production of next generation indigenous microprocessors. The Indian government has set a target of achieving the production of heavy-grade commercial silicon and design wins by December 2023. In the same pursuit, five MoUs have been signed between the government and entities like Sony India, ISRO, BEL, etc. for promoting use of indigenously developed RISC-V microprocessors Shakti and Vega.

DIR-V Program

India recently announced its Digital India RISC-V (DIR-V) Program to create the next generation of indigenous microprocessors as a part of its “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiative. The program aims to achieve heavy-grade commercial silicon and design wins by December 2023, implying that the indigenous chipsets are expected to enter mass production. (Design win is a technical term used in the semiconductor industry to indicate that a company’s chip/product has been designed into a fairly large design that will result in a lot of ongoing, volume sales of the chip.)

The federal government has set a timeline to commercially roll out the first indigenous chipsets – Shakti and Vega – by 2023-24 to meet the surging demand for semiconductors in the automotive, mobility, and computing segments.

This program is a component of the Semicon India program, which is aimed at positioning India as a global hub for electronic system design and manufacturing.

Indigenous microprocessors: Shakti and Vega

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, in partnership with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), have indigenously developed two open-source microprocessors named Shakti (32 bit) and Vega (64 bit), respectively, under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MeitY) “Microprocessor Development Programme”.

Digital India RISC-V Microprocessor (DIR-V) Program: Key highlights

India mainly relies on semiconductor imports and the ongoing chips shortage is affecting production capacity among automotive, consumer electronics, and mobile handset makers. The semiconductor shortage also comes as demand accelerating for higher tech-enabled products that use such components.

Consequently, the DIR-V program intends to make India self-reliant in semiconductor technology. The IIT Madras Director Professor V. Kamakoti has been named the Chief Architect of the DIR-V program, while C-DAC Scientist Krishnakumar Rao has been named Program Manager.

The program intends to fortify partnerships between startups, academia, and multinational companies, with the aim of making India a global RISC-V talent hub. Additionally, the DIR-V program also intends to make India a key supplier of RISC-V SoC (system on chips) for servers, mobile devices, automotive, IoT (internet of things), and microcontrollers across the globe.

India hopes to secure partnerships between platform majors like HP, VVDN, Apple, and electronics manufacturers, the Shakti/Vega teams, and the overall DIR-V program. If these partnerships were to materialize and create major design wins, they could incorporate Indian-made chips into their larger systems/products and accelerate large volume sales of chips.

Furthermore, the government also expects companies to adapt their product designs to DIR-V products Shakti and Vega before 2023-24 and proposes that once the silicon is ready for mass production, the companies can start manufacturing and incorporating chips in the products.

Government signs MoUs to catalyze domestic semiconductor ecosystem

In the same pursuit, the DIR-V program has announced five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) for the use of indigenously developed RISC-V Processors Shakti and Vega. They include:

  • MoU between SONY India and DIR-V SHAKTI Processor (IIT Madras) for the systems/products developed by SONY.
  • MoU between ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU), Thiruvananthapuram, and DIR-V SHAKTI Processor (IIT Madras) for the development of high-performance SoCs (System on Chip) and Fault-Tolerant Computer Systems.
  • MoU between Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Department of Atomic Energy, and DIR-V SHAKTI Processor (IIT Madras) for the systems/products developed by IGCAR.
  • MoU between Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and DIR-V VEGA Processor (C-DAC) for Rudra server board, cyber security, and language solutions.
  • MoU between Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) and DIR-V VEGA Processor (C-DAC) for the 4G/5G, broadband, IoT.

What is the Semicon India program?

India announced the Semicon India Program on December 15, 2021 and has been receiving proposals from companies for semiconductor and display manufacturing from January 1, 2022. The program intends to catalzye India’s semiconductor ecosystem in order to compete with other bases in Asia to reduce India’s import dependencies.

Through the program’s scope, the government hopes to attract large global chip makers to make India their production base. India wants to achieve technological leadership in these areas of strategic importance – also key to the security of the country’s critical information infrastructure.

The program aims at providing attractive incentives and support to companies engaged in the manufacturing of silicon semiconductor fabs, display fabs, compound semiconductors/silicon photonics/sensors (including MEMS) fabs, semiconductor packaging (ATMP/OSAT), and semiconductor design.

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