Intel invests in artificial intelligence chip start-up

Move to boost machine learning in edge devices

Tags: Intel Corporation
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Intel invests in artificial intelligence chip start-up Intel faces growing competition from large companies and upstarts that are building chips specifically suited for AI apps.
By  Manda Banda Published  May 14, 2018

Chip maker Intel is the lead investor in an artificial intelligence (AI) chip start-up building a low-power semiconductor that can bring machine learning to edge devices.

US-based Syntiant, has revealed it has raised a Series A financing round led by Intel to help commercialise its Neural Decision Processor, which uses "custom analogue neural networks to optimise deep learning functions at the transistor level."

Intel's investment in Syntiant comes as the semiconductor giant faces growing competition from large companies and upstarts alike that are building chips specifically suited for AI applications. Facebook and Amazon, for instance, are reportedly building their own AI chips while dozens of semiconductor start-ups are raising hundreds of millions.

"We believe ultra-low-power, analogue neural networks like the ones Syntiant provides could dramatically boost the adoption of distributed AI," Wendell Brooks, president of Intel Capital, said in a statement.

Intel has already cashed in on the AI chip start-up boom to a certain extent. In 2016, the company acquired Nervana Systems, which was developing a specialised chip for deep learning and neural networks.

Syntiant said it is targeting its Neural Decision Processor for always-on, battery-powered devices that need to perform AI functions such as image recognition or keyword spotting without sending information to the cloud for processing. Syntiant's target devices include high-end mobile phones, fitness trackers, hearing aids, drones and security cameras.

In addition, Syntiant plans to sell the chip in two ways: as an application-specific standard product and as an application-specific integrated circuit. The company said the ASSP has a larger opportunity because it's designed for multiple use cases while the ASIC would be custom-designed for a single application.

Beyond providing financial assistance, Intel has also introduced Syntiant to "more than a dozen tier-one companies" that could end up using the start-up's AI chip in their devices. The company expects the first Syntiant-powered devices to hit the market next year.

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