SANTA CRUZ, Calif. With a goal of bringing open-source "engineering-systems solutions" to Arab nations and the rest of the developing world, three young Arab engineers have launched a volunteer organization called Handasa Arabia, or "Arabic Engineering," dedicated to chip design using open-source silicon intellectual property (IP).
The organization is inviting worldwide participation in its projects. Its Web site, which provides information and announcements about open-source hardware, is the launching pad for two ongoing projects: OFOQ, the first Arabic PDA, and Nour, a Bluetooth baseband IP core.
Although the site is focused at present on chip design, the organization said the Web site is intended to provide an outlet for all engineers-including those from biomedical, chemical, aeronautic and other disciplines-to leverage open-source solutions for their designs.
One reason to launch the Handasa Arabia Organization, said the founders, is the fact that there are many skilled and educated engineers in the Arab world but few commercial opportunities.
"Universities are teaching chip design, and the program is very competitive to topnotch universities worldwide, but companies in design are rare," said co-founder Mohamed Salem, a hardware design engineer in Cairo, Egypt. "We have qualifications with no way, or limited chances, to apply our knowledge."
Salem said he sees Handasa Arabia as "a virtual laboratory and design center for all qualified people who hadn't had the chance to practice chip design in industrial environments, due to the shortage and lack of high-tech investments in the area."
"I'd like to see good achievements in the high-tech industry in our world, just like those made by the Western world or the Far East," said co-founder Jamil Khatib, an FPGA design engineer at Exalt Technologies Ltd., an optical startup in Ramallah, West Bank, that was spun out of Siemens ICT. "I think Handasa Arabia will open opportunities for [Arab] engineers to innovate, and show that their talents are comparable to those in other parts of the world."
The other co-founder, Mohamed Eldesoky, a systems engineer at Egyptian networking firm TE Data SAE, noted that Handasa Arabia is aimed at helping all developing countries. "Those countries can't afford the R&D expenses that are usual in the advanced world," he said. "The R&D budgets in some companies might exceed the income of some very poor developing countries."
The best way to cultivate chip design in the developing world, all three founders said, is through open-source engineering resources. Khatib has already had extensive involvement in this area. He was a founder of the www.OpenCores.org Web site, which is devoted to open-source IP, and he is the producer of OpenTech, a $25 CD-ROM set that contains open-source design automation tools and IP cores.
"Open source provides an easy and cheap platform to start our own projects and discover our abilities," said Khatib. "It enables us to communicate with engineers and students from all over the world and keeps us up to date with the latest technologies." Openness, said Salem, is "the most effective methodology to bridge the technological, educational and cultural gaps between developing and developed countries."
Handasa Arabia projects will use some of the OpenCores IP, Salem noted. But he said that its goals are far broader than those of OpenCores, since they extend beyond open-source silicon IP to solutions for other engineering disciplines.
The group's mailing list, Salem said, is open to engineers worldwide, as is active participation in projects. He said the organization has members in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries. One of the motivations behind the group, Khatib noted, is to foster collaboration among engineers from Arab and other countries.
Handasa Arabia currently maintains three active mailing lists:a general one, and lists for the OFOQ and Nour projects. Project files and specifications for OFOQ and Nour are available at the Web site.
OFOQ is intended to be a PDA-on-a-chip design. Thus far, said Salem, participants have implemented and synthesized a core processor, OpenRisc1k, and are porting the Linux operating system and device drivers to it. The Handasa Arabia Web site describes three versions of the OFOQ, which will use progressively larger CPUs and include more memory and software features, including Koran readers and reciters, an Arabic-English dictionary and a prayer time reminder.
The Nour project seeks to build an open-source Bluetooth baseband controller core. Participants are currently modeling the system as well as writing RTL code for several hardware blocks. A channelized RF link emulation daemon, contributed by an American engineer, may serve as the base link upon which a Nour emulation system can be built.
"Open-source cores are the easiest to design because they only need simulation tools and testing on programmable logic prototype boards," noted Khatib. "Other techniques require more money, experience, tools and time."
The organization's site also carries announcements of open-source EDA and IP developments, along with links to open-source projects. It lists engineering events occurring in the Arab world, including the 15th International Conference on Microelectronics, to be held in Cairo Dec. 9-11, and the 46th IEEE Midwest Symposium on Circuits and Systems, scheduled for Dec. 27-30, also in the Egyptian capital.
Handasa Arabia has yet to attract corporate sponsorship, but is getting recognition from universities, Salem said. "We have several requests to assist senior students while they are developing their graduation projects. As time proves the existence of real work, corporations will be standing by our side."