Blinking An LED – Extreme Edition

This hacker’s video on blinking LEDs never got the recognition it deserves. At the time of writing clocking in at just 61 views, but it is indeed a work of art. Just trust me, scroll to the bottom of the article and watch it, you wont be disappointed.

Not convinced? OK, let me tell you about it and the world it has opened up in the Japanese maker scene. We’ve all blinked an LED. Maybe it was just to test a microcontroller, like the simplest Arduino example.

blink555

Or we’ve been a tad more old school and used the classic 555 to do it. Or maybe like me, you went through a phase of hacking together Phase Shift and other oscillators because well… it’s fun!

But [Junichi AKITA] has more extreme tastes, deciding that a custom IC layout is the way to go. [Junichi] designed a ring oscillator composed of flip-flops, then hand laid out each MOSFET placing each layer exactly where it should be fabricated.

The resulting design was then fabricated by an academic shuttle service in Japan (a bit like the well known MOSIS service). The result is a tiny circuit in the top right corner of the IC. Which of course [Junichi] then had to wirebond (check the video for a cool 1980s style Westbond machine which are still hugely popular in Japan).

[Junichi] bonded the die directly to a PCB (COB). I assume, purely for irony, a 555, and ATtiny based oscillator were also laid out on the board.

makelsi_icI guess you might have a couple of lingering questions. First you’ll likely bemoan your lack of your own fabrication facility (I’m still eyeing those used 1 micron fab lines that crop up on eBay from time to time). And secondly you might be asking yourself… why?

Both these questions are somewhat answers by the MakeLSI project. This growing project in Japan seems to have opened up semiconductor fabrication to all kinds of projects.

While my Japanese isn’t good enough to fully understand what’s happening it’s clear there are many awesome projects going on. Including joys such as IC layouts designed in vector graphics packages (Inkscape) and die images packed with interesting layouts, anime characters and QR codes.

For more awesome images and information (unfortunately all in Japanese) you can check them out on Facebook or on their homepage.

Continue reading “Blinking An LED – Extreme Edition”

A Completely Open Microcontroller

mriscv
An annotated mRISCV die image

We don’t know about you, but the idea of an Arduino-class microprocessor board which uses completely open silicon is a pretty attractive prospect to us. That’s exactly [onchipUIS]’s stated goal. They’re part of a research group at the Universidad Industrial de Santander and have designed and taped out a RISCV implementation with Cortex M0-like characteristics.

The RISCV project has developed an open ISA (instruction set architecture) for modern 32-bit CPUs. More than 40 research groups and companies have now jumped on the project and are putting implementations together.

[onchipUIS] is one such project. And their twitter timeline shows the rapid progress they’ve been making recently.

mriscv_bonding
Die directly bonded to an OSHPark PCB

After tapeout, they started experimenting with their new wirebonding machine. Wirebonding, particularly manual bonding, on a novel platform is a process fraught with problems. Not only have [onchipUIS] successfully bonded their chip, but they’ve done so using a chip on board process where the die is directly bonded to a PCB. They used OSHPark boards and described the process on Twitter.

The board they’ve built breaks out all the chip’s peripherals, and is a convenient test setup to help them validate the platform. Check it, and some high resolution die images, out below. They’re also sending us a die to image using our electron microscope down at hackerfarm, and we look forward to the results!

Continue reading “A Completely Open Microcontroller”