In the summer of 2007, Sébastien Bourdeauducq, while a student at Supélec, founded an open source project that tackled the development of a system-on-chip capable of running the GPU-accelerated music visualizer MilkDrop. The name "Milkymist" was chosen to evoke a parallel MilkDrop - as digital hardware is inherently parallel. The development was no small task, as it required designing and/or integrating a powerful 32-bit microprocessor core, basic peripherals, many interfaces, a fast SDRAM controller, and fairly advanced graphics acceleration. The video synthesizer born out of those efforts, the Milkymist One, was launched in September 2011 with the help of the open hardware company Sharism at Work. As of April 2021, the Milkymist system-on-chip (SoC) remains the most advanced open source implementation of a SoC with graphics acceleration.
Components of the Milkymist SoC soon found many other uses, such as software-defined radio on board the International Space Station. The community grew and activities diversified, with the development of a TDC core for CERN (using a variant of the Milkymist SoC for integration), the Migen logic design system and its application to the Rhino software-defined radio platform, and the Mixxeo digital video mixer. In 2013, Milkymist was renamed to M-Labs to match the more varied activities, and formally incorporated as M-Labs Limited.
Since 2014, the company's main project is ARTIQ, a leading-edge open source control system for quantum information experiments. In 2016, Robert Jördens joined the directorate of the company to further develop ARTIQ and other physics-related projects. Commercial hardware developed specifically for ARTIQ, codenamed Sinara, started appearing in 2017 thanks to a collaboration with Grzegorz Kasprowicz from the Warsaw Insitute of Technology.
Over 200 major quantum physics experiments have been relying on ARTIQ as their main control and data acquisition system.
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The dragon in the M-Labs logo is a Japanese dragon (ryū).