From PDF to GDS: Designing the RoboBee SoC


Brandon Reagen, Xaun Zhang, David Brooks, and Gu Wei. 6/14/2015. “From PDF to GDS: Designing the RoboBee SoC.” WARP 2015 6th Workshop on Architectural Research Prototyping (Co-Located with the 42nd International Symposium on Computer Architecture). Publisher's Version


Developing the Robobee was a multi-discipline, 5-year project funded by a National Science Foundation Expeditions in Computing award with the goal of achieving autonomous flight with a bee-sized micro-robot [2]. The intent of the research was to help re-stabilize the declining bee population which researchers have shown could have devastating effects on the earths ecosystem. Bees are remarkably efficient; their skeleton weighs almost nothing: requiring minimal lift to takeoff and sustain flight; their brains are small: pre-programmed with a minimal set of instincts necessary for the colonies survival. Their capabilities under such stringent weight and compute limitations makes them a prime target for pushing what modern robotics and computer systems can do. The weight and power limits require a custom System-onChip (SoC) be built. Conventional off-chip voltage regulators are heavy and bulky, and thus cannot fit under the weight and form factor of the robotic bee. Commercial Off-The-Shelf parts (COTS) micro-controllers consume too much power to perform the required computation for autonomous flight. The solution is to pack as much IP onto a single die. SoCs have been the trend of all semi-conductor companies over the past decade from mobile and embedded to server grade solutions. In this paper we recount our experiences designing such a chip. We highlight the major challenges faced when designing for such a unique form factor, how designs and specifications were set by each collaborating lab, the difficulties of integrating a plethora of IP consisting of in-house digital and analog blocks, and the design flows we used. We also discuss how invaluable HLS was in reducing the engineering burden, focusing design efforts at higher levels of abstraction, and an overall successful tape-out.
Last updated on 04/24/2022