Alibaba Cloud gets more of Android working on RISC-V silicon

Alibaba Cloud has advanced its work in porting Android to the RISC-V architecture.

The Chinese shadow giant has spent more than a year working on a port of the Google-created OS and in January 2021 showed a GUI powered by Android 10 running on silicon designed by T-Head Semiconductor – an Alibaba subsidiary that designs its own RISC -V chip.

Alibaba Cloud has now revealed that it works on Android 12 and has integrated third-party vendor modules. The result is Android on the RISC-V, which is capable of playing audio and video, running Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and running cameras.

The company has also “enabled several system enhancement features such as kernel toolkits, third-party libraries and SoC card support package on RISC-V”, which together make RISC-V a better target for Android.

Another advance is successful trials with TensorFlow Lite models on the RISC-V. That effort means that Android on the RISC-V should be able to run workloads such as image and sound classification and optical character recognition.

Alibaba Cloud has not specified whether its porting efforts are targeted at a particular processor, but is eager to point out that its homemade Xuantie C906 processor recently exceeded the MLPerf Tiny v0.7 benchmark – a test used on Internet of Things devices . The company has also pointed out that its home-grown RISC-V kits have already been used in smart home appliances, car applications and edge computing.

These applications – plus the emphasis on AI and IoT – suggest that Alibaba Cloud is most interested in using the combination of RISC-V and Android to power devices other than smartphones. The reference to working cameras and wireless communication is as relevant to non-phone devices as it is to those seeking to erode the dominance of chip design firm Arms in the handset market.

The Xuantie C906 uses Alibaba-designed cores that are – as required for RISC-V users – available on GitHub.

The company has not offered a timeline for when it aims to have a full version of Android on RISC-V.

Whenever this happens, the farm will be an important step towards China’s goal of reducing its dependence on technology that other nations can control with restrictions such as trade bans. Since RISC-V is open source, it is almost impossible to prevent its flow to China. ®