The RISE project gives RISC-V an open-source software lift: embedded

Hardware needs software and it needs a good ecosystem to help proliferate deployment and serve different applications. To address this, the Linux Foundation Europe has launched a new global collaborative effort to accelerate the availability of software for high-performance and power-efficient RISC-V cores running high-level operating systems for a variety of market segments.

Called the RISC-V Software Ecosystem (RISE) project, it brings together key players in the ecosystem with a governing board that includes Andes, Google, Intel, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Nvidia, Qualcomm Technologies, Red Hat, Rivos, Samsung, SiFive , T-Head, and Ventana. The chair of the RISE Project, Amber Huffman, said, “The RISE Project brings together leaders with a shared sense of urgency to accelerate the RISC-V software ecosystem readiness in collaboration with RISC-V International.”

RISE project members will contribute financially and provide engineering talent to address specific software deliverables prioritized by the RISE technical steering committee (TSC). RISE is dedicated to enabling a robust software ecosystem specifically for application processors that includes software development tools, virtualization support, language runtimes, Linux distribution integration, and system firmware, working upstream first with existing open-source communities in accordance with open source best practices.

One of the biggest challenges the RISC-V story has is the continuous perception that it’s a new challenger to existing architectures, and so it’s not quite there yet in terms of ecosystem and support. The announcement of the RISE project is therefore quite timely as one of the key messages we’ve been hearing at this year’s Computex 2023 in Taiwan is the significance of ecosystems and software – whatever system development you are doing, with whatever architecture you are using, partners and support ecosystems are important.

For example, Nvidia’s CEO and founder Jensen Huang highlighted this in his keynote speech at the show, illustrating the huge ecosystem of software ecosystem and libraries. Arm’s senior vice-president and general manager for the infrastructure business, Mohamed Awad talked about the software ecosystem on Arm with around 15 million developers working specifically on Arm v9. In a briefing, he told us, “Arm enables the ecosystem to innovate, we focus very much on software enablement, working with the open source community, such as Linaro.”

Steve Leibson, analyst at Tirias Research, told our sister publication EE Times, “The RISC-V movement has suffered from the same malaise that has afflicted countless earlier processor architectures for half a century: the hardware is willing, but the software is weak. One of the aspects of microprocessor leadership that Arm has gotten right over the past three decades is the construction of a massive ecosystem. Arm is rightfully proud of its ecosystem and the company has estimated that the ecosystem cuts project development costs for Arm-based projects by 50 percent. That’s not an unbelievable number. With a large ecosystem, chances are good that someone, somewhere has already trod the technical paths a development team needs to travel to reach a project destination successfully. In short, a large ecosystem helps to reduce project risks, and Arm’s ecosystem is quite large.”

Linux Foundation Europe’s general manager, Gabriele Columbro, said, “The RISE Project is dedicated to enabling RISC-V in open source tools and libraries (such as LLVM, GCC) to speed implementation and time-to-market. RISC-V is a cornerstone of the European technology and industrial landscape, so we’re honored to provide a neutral, trusted home for the RISE Project under Linux Foundation Europe.”

Of course, RISC-V International is part of the collaboration and is happy that the software support ecosystem is being addressed in this more formal way. The foundation’s CEO, Calista Redmond, said, “As a global community, we have made tremendous progress in RISC-V adoption. We are grateful to the thousands of engineers making upstream contributions and to the organizations coming together now to invest in tools and libraries in support of the RISC-V software ecosystem. Accelerating adoption is our shared mission. The collective investment of our community and in the RISE Project will build on that momentum.”

Driving maturity of the software ecosystem is a key goal for many of the companies involved. The director of engineering on Android at Google, Lars Bergstrom, said, “Open source software is at the heart of modern products. Google is excited to partner with industry leaders to drive the rapid maturity of the RISC-V software ecosystem in support of Android and more.”

Intel added that accelerating RISC-V support in the open source software ecosystem, aligned with platform standards, is critical to the growth of RISC-V adoption. Nvidia said the accelerated computing platform – which includes GPUs, DPUs, chiplets, interconnects and software – will support the RISC-V open standard to help drive breakthroughs in data centers, and a wide range of industries, such as automotive, healthcare and robotics.

Imagination Technologies’ director of CPU ecosystems, Pete Lewin, said the RISE project will coordinate investment in the software ecosystem to avoid duplication and increase the pace of development. He commented, “Imagination already has an extensive program of RISC-V software ecosystem development, including a large investment in open source software. RISE will enable us to maximize the effectiveness of this, and further accelerate the fastest growing ecosystem in the industry.”

Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung Electronics both also see this as significant. Qualcomm said RISC-V’s flexible, scalable, and open architecture enables benefits across the entire value chain – from silicon vendors to OEM manufacturers to end consumers. Samsung’s head of the open source group, Soohong Daniel Park, said, “We believe in the core mission of the RISE Project, in which we can apply the proven successful model of open source innovation. Samsung Electronics would like to contribute and collaborate with members of the RISE Project to enable a new disruptive world powered by a sustainable RISC-V software ecosystem.

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