RISC-V MCU grown in Colombia

September 15, 2016 // By Àngela Sampayo Montañez
A university group in Colombia developing a RISC-V-based microcontroller is a sign of the country's intention to make its mark in technology.

Onchip, a research group focused on integrated systems at the Universidad Industrial de Santander, is working towards the first system-on-chip designed in Colombia. Aiming to contribute to the growth of the open source community, it is designing a 32-bit microcontroller based on the RISC-V instruction set. The 2x2mm chip will be made in a 130nm process and aims to be the equivalent of commercial microcontrollers implemented with an ARM M0 core.

The group recognized how licensed instruction sets and microprocessor cores restrict the process of modifying a core for performance or adapting it to specific applications. They saw the RISC-V architecture aimed to support research, education and an emerging developer community.

Power and area simulations show that a RISC-V architecture can be used to replace an ARM M0 microcontrollers with similar performance. The 32-bit RISC-V based microcontroller (mRISCV) from Colombia aims to pave the way for future implementations of both general and application-specific chips that provide open source hardware for the Internet of Things.

Krste Asanović and David Patterson from UC Berkeley have reported on RISC-V processors capable of running Linux. However, to date there has not been any reported work of a small footprint RISC-V core with peripherals that can replace low-end commercial microcontrollers.

The mRISCV includes:

  • AXI4-Lite and APB buses for linking the core to peripherals
  • A Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI)
  • An 8 I/O GPIO module
  • A SAR 10-bit analog-to-digital converter
  • A 12-bit digital-to-analog converter

A master SPI can monitor the status of the peripherals while the microprocessor is still executing programs. The group also will implement a microcontroller using an interconnect supporting the AMBA protocol family.


Onchip plans to release late next year 1,000
developer boards stamped out as puzzle pieces
targeting students. (Images: Universidad Industrial
de Santander)

Professor Elkim Roa, head of the Onchip group, said that the final version of the microcontroller will be used in one thousand Arduino-compatible development boards. They will take the