(JW Insights) Mar 6 -- T-Head(平头哥), the chip unit of Alibaba Group Holding, is putting more effort into RISC-V chips, as China bets on the open-source chip design architecture as a means of achieving greater self-sufficiency in the semiconductor supply in the face of US sanctions, reported South China Morning Post(SCMP) on March 3.
Meng Jianyi, vice-president of T-Head, said the unit is launching an initiative to encourage around 150,000 developers to learn about and get international credentials on the open-source chip design architecture. It is also looking into expanding the technology’s commercial applications with business partners, said Meng, who was speaking at the unit’s first conference on the RISC-V ecosystem in Shanghai on March 2.
“The development of RISC-V requires global innovation collaboration, from chips to software, applications and terminals,” said Meng at the conference, which has been described as the largest conference to date on RISC-V development in China. “T-Head is pulling together the major ecosystems so that global developers and partners can better use and develop RISC-V technologies.”
Alipay, the payment service of Alibaba affiliate Ant Group, said it plans to introduce chips that will enable secure payment functions on wearable devices. The chips, also based on RISC-V, are being jointly developed by Alipay and T-Head, according to SCMP.
The move by Alibaba comes amid broader efforts by China to develop the open-source chip design architecture as the country pushes for greater self-reliance in semiconductors. China is currently subject to tough US trade restrictions on the export of advanced chips and equipment to the country.
Ni Guangnan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said at the conference that RISC-V has already become “the most popular architecture in the Chinese central processing unit field” and “a new engine to promote the development of next-generation information technology”.
Alibaba has been actively pushing forward the development and application of RISC-V in the country, launching a total of eight RISC-V processors so far through T-Head, which was set up in 2018.
“We see RISC-V coming out in full force in data centres and cloud implementations, and being leveraged quickly for artificial intelligence acceleration and Alibaba has really stepped out to be a leader in the ecosystem,” said Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, the non-profit home of the open-standard RISC-V Instruction Set Architecture.
T-Head has also been accelerating the chip architecture’s commercial application in China, aiming to bring RISC-V chips to both consumer and industrial fields.
However, some developers currently face a number of challenges, including high costs and difficulties with algorithm compatibility when adopting the RISC-V architecture, said a technician, according to SCMP.