IIT Madras and State’s Engineering Colleges Foster a Growing Semiconductor Design Ecosystem
IIT Madras: Tamil Nadu is making significant strides in the chip design industry, positioning itself as a major contributor to the global ecosystem. Referred to as the “IIT Madras corridor,” the state has become a breeding ground for top talent, with one in five semiconductor chips designed by giants like Qualcomm, Intel, Texas Instruments, and NXP Semiconductors having been influenced by Indian professionals, many of whom hail from IIT-Madras.
The Need for Talent and Expertise:
Designing and researching semiconductor chips requires expertise in various areas, including device physics, computational algorithms, mathematics, and data analytics. Tamil Nadu boasts a vast network of engineering colleges that offer electronics and communications engineering (ECE) programs, providing the necessary foundation for chip design. Additionally, the state hosts more than 140 colleges offering courses in very large system integration (VLSI), which train students in designing semiconductor devices and circuits. Furthermore, Tamil Nadu’s micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME) ecosystem for printed circuit board (PCB) design and layout is one of the largest in the country.
RISC-V Architecture and the Growing Ecosystem:
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar recently emphasized that India’s competitive edge in the chip design industry lies not only in accelerating the establishment of semiconductor fabrication units but also in fostering a growing ecosystem for semiconductor design and innovation, particularly in RISC-V architecture. He noted that Chennai, with its proximity to IIT-Madras, is witnessing significant semiconductor design innovation.
The Rise of RISC-V:
Computer processors rely on instruction set architectures (ISA), with ARM and RISC-V being the two prominent options. While ARM-based processors have traditionally dominated the market, RISC-V architecture has emerged as a game-changer, providing India with an opportunity to challenge the American giants. Led by Director V Kamakoti, a team at IIT-Madras developed India’s first indigenously developed RISC-V microprocessor, called SHAKTI.
Commercial Ventures and Funding:
The technologists at IIT-Madras have established commercial ventures and are receiving funding from venture capitalists (VC). For example, InCore Technologies, a startup founded by IIT-Madras technologists, is building a suite of RISC-V processor cores. The company recently raised $3 million in funding. Similarly, Mindgrove Technologies, another IIT-Madras startup, secured $2.3 million in funding. Mindgrove specializes in designing high-performance and low-power system-on-chips (SoCs) for edge signal processing and vision applications.
The Role of Education and Curriculum:
Beyond IIT-Madras, Tamil Nadu’s engineering colleges, including IIITDM Kanchipuram and NIT Trichy, contribute significantly to the VLSI design talent pool. Experts stress the importance of updating the curriculum to focus on the end-to-end semiconductor value chain. Emulating Taiwan, where students are taken on virtual tours of foundries to understand the fabrication process, the state should revamp its industrial training institutes (ITIs) to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of chip manufacturing.
Polymatech’s Contribution and Water-Saving Technology:
TN-based Polymatech, a manufacturer of optosemiconductors used in lighting, healthcare, and food sanitation applications, is actively collaborating with institutions in Tamil Nadu to develop a curriculum that produces engineers skilled in nanotech machinery deployment. The company has invested in sapphire-based technology, which uses less water compared to traditional silicon chips. Polymatech’s commitment aligns with Tamil Nadu’s plans to invest $1 billion by 2025, with the company already operating a plant in Oragadam, Sriperumbudur, and building another facility in Krishnagiri.
Tamil Nadu’s flourishing semiconductor design ecosystem, driven by institutions like IIT-Madras and a network of engineering colleges, is positioning the state as a key player in the chip design industry. With a growing focus on RISC-V architecture and a strong talent pool, Tamil Nadu is poised to make significant contributions to the global semiconductor landscape.