Industry Article

Keeping RISC-V-Based Embedded System Design Flexible with Linux and Zephyr microPlatforms

7 months ago by Trina Watt, Foundries.io

This article discusses Foundries.io's microPlatforms which support Intel, Arm, and RISC-V architectures and are designed to avoid lock-in to specific hardware implementations.

This article discusses Foundries.io's microPlatforms which support Intel, Arm, and RISC-V architectures and are designed to avoid lock-in to specific hardware implementations.

Ecosystems can bring members a wide variety of benefits. Enabling these benefits to be collectively used, whilst enabling differentiated offerings, requires some key elements to be considered:

  • Avoid duplication of effort, especially in low differentiating features
  • Adopt the technologies that bring solutions to market
  • Reuse and build on the ecosystems’ collective knowledge

RISC-V Software Ecosystem Challenges

As the range of RISC-V hardware designs reaches the market the next challenge is managing the software ecosystem. Software fragmentation is a risk that underlies any hardware architecture that has multiple implementations, from multiple vendors. The ability to leverage consistency across the community whilst remaining flexible to differentiation is core to the mission RISC-V has. We need to look at the key areas that are consistent to all and offer software structures that can flex with the underlying hardware implementation and evolution. Open source solutions need to take this into consideration when designing supporting toolchains and APIs.

Currently, the majority of platform software development is falling to the individual companies designing the hardware or end-devices. This can result in potential duplication of effort and a lack of re-use across the community. If this approach is ongoing into the future, then there is a higher risk of software fragmentation and interoperability issues.

The challenges mentioned above do not need to be the case. By being able to adopt a consistent platform across the ecosystem that covers the low-level functionality, test structure, and security maintenance can take steps towards avoiding this fragmentation. 

Foundries.io microPlatforms

Foundries.io has two microPlatforms providing efficient implementations of Zephyr and Linux. The microPlatforms are configurable, with a small footprint, open source for building secure, connected, over-the-air (OTA) updatable embedded products. These platforms give scalable solutions that ecosystem members can build their own differentiators on top of, in the knowledge that the underlying platforms will be kept updated, secure and easy to update.

We have extensive knowledge and experience in implementing open source Linux solutions from our time within Linaro. We know the key challenges that have been experienced by other architectures and are working to preemptively address these before they occur for RISC-V implementations. We offer open scalable platforms that can easily be adapted to support the differences in the underlying hardware implementations, whilst enabling the innovation that these differences create.

The microPlatforms are designed to avoid lock-in to specific hardware implementations. They support a range of underlying hardware including Intel, Arm, and RISC-V architectures. They enable application and services portability between the architectures with a consistent software platform to build on, offering an efficient way of moving to RISC-V implementations from existing architectures.

The Linux microPlatform

The Linux microPlatform (LmP) combines secure updatable firmware, a minimal Linux distribution build using OpenEmbedded/Yocto and (in future for RISC-V) a Docker container-based application runtime. It is continuously tested and provides a stable stream of updates for your Linux product implementation.

 

foundries.io Linux microPlatform

Figure 1. The Linux microPlatform

 

The Zephyr microPlatform

The Zephyr microPlatform (ZmP) focuses on implementations that need the features provided by an RTOS. ZmP combines the MCUboot secure bootloader, Zephyr RTOS and reference applications providing a continuously tested, OTA updatable, cross architecture solution for MCU based designs. It can work standalone for product development or it can seamlessly be used with the LmP for gateway/device systems.

 

foundries.io zephyr microplatform

Figure 2. The Zephyr microPlatform.

Embedded System Challenges

The embedded space has the additional challenge of a large variety of end devices and implementations that not only need to be developed but also supported, long term, once installed. The ability to fully benefit from the software progress and learnings of other companies will help to accelerate and increase the quality of these end devices.

Installing embedded systems is not only about the initial design and implementation. Numerous IoT based devices are installed in inhospitable or remote locations. The consideration of how to provide long term maintenance and support is a key element that needs to be planned from the start. The microPlatforms have been designed with lifetime maintenance considerations at their heart, bringing an update approach that can be tailored to the specific end device needs. Mission critical devices may adopt a continuous update approach whereas lower priority devices may only be updated once a year or in their lifetime. This means that the RISC-V community avoids the situation of unsupported board support packages based on outdated software.

Foundries.io approach brings scalable solutions that provide continuously updated platforms that support the RISC-V implementations in a way that enables the differentiation of the architecture without the software fragmentation; brings best-in-class continuous integration approach with new fixes and features as the market evolves, and builds on the learnings of multiple vendors rolled into one set of microPlatforms. Visit Foundries.io to get more information or Github to download the microPlatforms.

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