Welcome AJIT, a ‘Made in India’ microprocessor
Researchers at IIT Bombay develop the first locally designed and manufactured microprocessor.
The Indian electronics market is experiencing its biggest boom ever. Fueled by demand for electronic devices, it is expected to reach $ 400 billion by 2020. Most of the electronic devices we use are imported; only a quarter of the devices are produced in the country. According to statistics, electronic products in India account for over 10% of total imports, just behind petroleum products! One piece of electronic equipment that is almost always imported is the microprocessor, the “brain” of an electronic device.
A microprocessor is an integrated circuit (IC) that contains a few million transistors (electronic devices based on semiconductors) fused onto a semiconductor chip. It’s only a few millimeters in size and is used in almost every electronic device, from microwaves and washing machines in homes to advanced supercomputers on a space station. However, developing and manufacturing a microprocessor is not easy, it is expensive, risky, and requires a lot of skill. As a result, only a handful of companies around the world have successfully made and sold microprocessors.
In an attempt to differentiate themselves in the highly competitive segment of microprocessor manufacturing, engineers at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) developed a new microprocessor called AJIT â the first microprocessor to be conceptualized, designed, developed and manufactured. in India. This innovation could not only reduce the country’s imports but also make India self-sufficient in electronics.
AJIT marks the first time in the country’s history where industry, academia and government have come together. Professor Madhav Desai and his team of around nine researchers at IIT Bombay designed and developed the processor entirely at the institute. The project was funded by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and IIT Bombay. Powai Labs, a Mumbai-based company, has also invested in the business and will own, market and support the product. âI thank Dr Debashish Dutta from MeitY for championing this project and Reapan Tikoo from Powai Labs for supporting the project financially and as an industrial partner,â said Professor Desai, acknowledging the contributions of partner institutions.
âWe’ve been working on this processor design for over two years now. The design was tested on programmable semiconductor chips before we started our efforts to manufacture the processor, âexplains Professor Desai.
AJIT – Full of features
Similar to most microprocessors available today, AJIT comes with an arithmetic and logic unit which can perform basic arithmetic and logic operations like addition, subtraction and comparison, and a memory management unit which stores and retrieves data from memory. There is also a floating point unit designed to efficiently handle calculations with non-whole numbers. For those who wish to program the microprocessor, there is a hardware debugger unit to help them monitor and control the processor.
AJIT’s characteristics can be compared to many microprocessors of its size available on the market today. Unlike those used in desktop computers like Intel’s Xeon, AJIT is a mid-sized processor. It can be used inside a decoder, as a control panel for automation systems, in a traffic light controller or even in robotic systems. Additionally, researchers expect AJIT to cost up to $ 100 when mass produced! AJIT can execute one instruction per clock cycle and can operate at clock speeds between 70 and 120 MHz, comparable to its competitors in the market.
The researchers made the software tools associated with AJIT accessible free of charge to everyone. The processor is also available as a “softcore,” where vendors can purchase a license to use the design of the microprocessor and manufacture it for use in their system. The researchers also suggest customizing the processor for specific applications.
âThe design of the processor is modular, and for an additional fee, vendors can get a processor design with a feature set to suit the system they are designing,â explains Professor Desai.
The “made in India” advantage
Prof Desai and his team of students — C. Arun, M. Sharath, Neha Karanjkar, Piyush Soni, Titto Anbadan, Ashfaque Ahmed, Aswin Jith, Ch. Kalyani, Nanditha Rao — used a set of tools called AHIR-V2, which can convert algorithm to hardware and which was fully developed at IIT Bombay to design the circuit of the microprocessor. Prof Desai mentioned that many fruitful discussions with his colleagues at IIT Bombay, Prof. VR Sule, Prof. M. Shojaei-Baghini and Prof. M. Chandorkar helped the project and he acknowledged the contribution of H. Jattana, Pooja Dhanker and Shubham from Semiconductor Labs, Chandigarh towards the manufacturing of the processor.
In the first stage, AJIT was manufactured in the government-owned Semiconductor Laboratory (SCL), Chandigarh, with technology that offers the smallest building block in the size of 180 nanometers. The researchers also plan to commercially manufacture the processor using more advanced techniques that provide the smallest building block of size 65nm or 45nm, which is the current state of the art.
âManufacturing this using 180nm technology is the first step. While it may not be cutting edge technology, it is sufficient for most targeted applications. The use of a advanced technology for large manufacturing quantities – tens of lakhs – would reduce the cost per part, ânotes Professor Desai.
A processor made in India offers more than a cost benefit. It gives the country autonomy and autonomy in the electronics sector and reduces our dependence on technologies imported from other parts of the world. It also guarantees a secure system without the possibility of backdoor entry, thus preventing digital sabotage by other countries or malicious organizations. So far, although Indian teams have designed complete processors in India, no Indian company has a commercially available microprocessor. AJIT hopes to change this soon.
A local processor is also likely to reduce the import burden. Electronic device manufacturers could benefit from the immediate availability and competitive price of an Indian device with the added benefit of having the design and support team close by. If an equipment manufacturer needs a modification or customization, the design and support team will be accessible.
âThe geographic proximity could easily make it possible to do something in say two weeks, instead of the three months required otherwise,â explains Professor Desai.
The challenges and the roadmap
The feat of building the native microprocessor was not without its challenges. Professor Desai only had a small group of very talented and passionate but inexperienced graduate students, and they worked on a tight budget to ensure sound design before the processor was manufactured. âThe challenge was to structure and partition the design so that it could be implemented in this configuration. To allow for early testing, we created a computer model of the processor that could simulate the functionality of the processor in detail. This made it possible to test the processor well before it was manufactured, ârecalls Professor Desai.
It is not yet done; there are more difficult challenges for the team to overcome to make the processor commercially viable to make it a great success. âFor AJIT, we need to get more people to use it. Primary testing indicated that the processor specs match the competition, and the new processor will be competitive as well. If the business community as a whole owned this processor, built systems around it so that users, as well as supporters, saw value in it and could make money from the effort, then this effort can. stay sustainable, âsays Professor Desai.
The researchers hope that since AJIT compares well with other imported processors, it might see many early adopters. They also plan to introduce AJIT to academia to expand its reach and provide graduate students with hands-on experience. âWe could push the use of this new microprocessor by introducing it into the curriculum of engineering schools. A well-designed single-board computer system could be made available to students and other enthusiasts at low cost, âsuggests Professor Desai.
On the government side, MeitY has extended its funding to upgrade the processor and deploy it in government initiated projects. SAMEER (Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering & Research), an independent laboratory under MeitY, the government if India plans to use AJIT in receivers under development for NAVIC or IRNNS (The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System), a native navigation system for the Indian subcontinent.
âWe hope people use AJIT and plan and build equipment using it. We are ready and prepared to support them. We have a seed and we need people to cultivate it, âconcludes Professor Desai.