CAMBRIDGE, MA—The innovators behind the microprocessor architecture that’s revolutionized computer chips just earned one of the highest honors in their field. The 2022 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, endowed by Draper and awarded every two years by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), will be given to David A. Patterson, John L. Hennessy, Stephen B. Furber and Sophie M. Wilson at an event in Washington, D.C.
The NAE says that Hennessy, Patterson, Furber and Wilson earned the award “for contributions to the invention, development and implementation of reduced instruction set computer (RISC) chips.” Just as important are the various and numerous low-power portable devices that grew out of their work.
In a statement announcing the prize, the NAE said Patterson and Hennessy led parallel but independent teams in the 1980s at Berkeley and Stanford developing the RISC architectural concepts under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) project. The NAE statement goes on to say that Furber and Wilson advanced the commercialization of the RISC architecture at Acorn, a U.K. company, by designing a microprocessor originally called the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM), later changed to Advanced RISC Machine when ARM Ltd. was established in 1990.
RISC chips streamline and accelerate data processing by minimizing the complexity of instructions handled directly by the microprocessor and by relying on compilers to break down complex operations into these simpler elements. RISC chips were originally used for computer games like Nintendo and PlayStation, but their low-power feature made them obvious candidates for mobile devices such as cell phones and laptops. Today, virtually every person with a portable computing device benefits from this invention due to its low-power feature, which yields a much longer battery life.
Engineers continue to benefit from the innovations, said Geremy Freifeld at Draper. “The RISC revolution began decades ago and has grown exponentially in the last 10-15 years. Telco, automotive, retail, science, space, defense—they all benefit from RISC’s ability to bring computing to the edge. The open architecture, and an active ecosystem to go along with it, continues to add to the enduring contribution of RISC and now RISC-V.” Freifeld works with customers to design and develop RISC-based platform solutions that deliver high performance and reliability in aerospace and defense applications operating in severe environments.
The Draper Prize was established and endowed in 1988 at the request of Draper to honor the memory of “Doc” Draper, the father of inertial navigation, and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology.
Recognized as one of the world’s pre-eminent awards for engineering achievement, the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering honors an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably and permitting the access to information. This year’s recipients will split the $500,000 cash award.