Aspiring designers of microelectronic chips, also known as integrated circuits, may find their hopes of creating a working chip of their own dashed if they are short on financial resources. According to James Doyle, an electrical engineering doctoral student and visiting faculty member in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, the industry’s dominant suite of chip design programs from Cadence Design Systems can cost $100,000 or more for a single user.
Even those who work full-time and want to pursue chip design on their own would struggle with such a high cost; the average salary for an electrical engineer in the U.S. is $114,050 as of May 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Electrical engineers using their companies’ software also run into issues with intellectual property rights. Anything designed using the employers’ program licenses becomes the property of the employer, which limits experimentation.
Doyle set out to overcome this impediment by putting together a suite of open-source chip design tools. While the tools are publicly available for free, they don’t synchronize well with each other and often result in format errors that need to be corrected when transferring the designs and code from one program to the next, further extending a chip’s development timeline.
“We have it so it’s seamless,” Doyle says. “There are no fixes required. That’s a huge step.”