Machine learning at the edge: The AI chip company challenging Nvidia and Qualcomm
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Today’s demand for real-time data analytics at the edge marks the dawn of a new era in machine learning (ML): edge intelligence. That need for time-sensitive data is, in turn, fueling a massive AI chip market, as companies look to provide ML models at the edge that have less latency and more power efficiency.
Conventional edge ML platforms consume a lot of power, limiting the operational efficiency of smart devices, which live on the edge. Those devices are also hardware-centric, limiting their computational capability and making them incapable of handling varying AI workloads. They leverage power-inefficient GPU- or CPU-based architectures and are also not optimized for embedded edge applications that have latency requirements.
Even though industry behemoths like Nvidia and Qualcomm offer a wide range of solutions, they mostly use a combination of GPU- or data center-based architectures and scale them to the embedded edge as opposed to creating a purpose-built solution from scratch. Also, most of these solutions are set up for larger customers, making them extremely expensive for smaller companies.
In essence, the $1 trillion global embedded-edge market is reliant on legacy technology that limits the pace of innovation.
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A new machine learning solution for the edge
ML company Sima AI seeks to address these shortcomings with its machine learning-system-on-chip (MLSoC) platform that enables ML deployment and scaling at the edge. The California-based company, founded in 2018, announced today that it has begun shipping the MLSoC platform for customers, with an initial focus of helping solve computer vision challenges in smart vision, robotics, Industry 4.0, drones, autonomous vehicles, healthcare and the government sector.
The platform uses a software-hardware codesign approach that emphasizes software capabilities to create edge-ML solutions that consume minimal power and can handle varying ML workloads.
Built on 16nm technology, the MLSoC’s processing system consists of computer vision processors for image pre- and post-processing, coupled with dedicated ML acceleration and high-performance application processors. Surrounding the real-time intelligent video processing are memory interfaces, communication interfaces, and system management — all connected via a network-on-chip (NoC). The MLSoC features low operating power and high ML processing capacity, making it ideal as a standalone edge-based system controller, or to add an ML-offload accelerator for processors, ASICs and other devices.
The software-first approach includes carefully-defined intermediate representations (including the TVM Relay IR), along with novel compiler-optimization techniques. This software architecture enables Sima AI to support a wide range of frameworks (e.g., TensorFlow, PyTorch, ONNX, etc.) and compile over 120+ networks.
The MLSoC promise – a software-first approach
Many ML startups are focused on building only pure ML accelerators and not an SoC that has a computer-vision processor, applications processors, CODECs, and external memory interfaces that enable the MLSoC to be used as a stand-alone solution not needing to connect to a host processor. Other solutions usually lack network flexibility, performance per watt, and push-button efficiency – all of which are required to make ML effortless for the embedded edge.
Sima AI’s MLSoC platform differs from other existing solutions as it solves all these areas at the same time with its software-first approach.
The MLSoC platform is flexible enough to address any computer vision application, using any framework, model, network, and sensor with any resolution. “Our ML compiler leverages the open-source Tensor Virtual Machine (TVM) framework as the front-end, and thus supports the industry’s widest range of ML models and ML frameworks for computer vision,” Krishna Rangasayee, CEO and founder of Sima AI, told VentureBeat in an email interview.
From a performance point of view, Sima AI’s MLSoC platform claims to deliver 10x better performance in key figures of merit such as FPS/W and latency than alternatives.
The company’s hardware architecture optimizes data movement and maximizes hardware performance by precisely scheduling all computation and data movement ahead of time, including internal and external memory to minimize wait times.
Achieving scalability and push-button results
Sima AI offers APIs to generate highly optimized MLSoC code blocks that are automatically scheduled on the heterogeneous compute subsystems. The company has created a suite of specialized and generalized optimization and scheduling algorithms for the back-end compiler that automatically convert the ML network into highly optimized assembly codes that run on the machine learning-accelerator (MLA) block.
For Rangasayee, the next phase of Sima AI’s growth is focused on revenue and scaling their engineering and business teams globally. As things stand, Sima AI has raised $150 million in funding from top-tier VCs such as Fidelity and Dell Technologies Capital. With the goal of transforming the embedded-edge market, the company has also announced partnerships with key industry players like TSMC, Synopsys, Arm, Allegro, GUC and Arteris.
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