While China is often assumed to be a generation or two behind in chip-making skills, design engineers are now flocking to a bunch of ‘disruptive’ AI startups in China.
It would be misleading to think that only China’s established industry leaders have the resources to develop AI chip solutions.
Horizon Robotics, for example, offers AI-based solutions for automotive applications, powered by its Brain Processing Unit (BPU™). These deliver high performance at low power, enabling Tier 1s, OEMs and automotive startups to create unique autonomous-driving and ‘intelligent-cockpit’ capabilities.
Horizon’s Nebula™ Intelligent Vehicle Active Safety Solution, for example, is a full-stack AI solution that incorporates ADAS (Advanced Driver Assist System), DMS (Driver Monitoring System), and Facial Recognition functions, plus an Intelligent Speech front-end that provides active safety tips for drivers.
Another case in point is ChipIntelli, a national high-tech enterprise focused on AI-based ASR (automatic speech recognition) chip solutions.
As a leader in the field, ChipIntelli has mastered an array of complex capabilities in AI speech algorithms, chip design, and speech-data processing and the training engine that makes it possible.
ChipIntelli has now applied for more than 100 related intellectual property rights, defining the company as a domestic leader in fields that include integrated-circuit design, local speech-recognition technology, and speech noise-reduction processing technology.
In the field of computer vision, China’s NextVPU – “Next Vision Processing Unit” – offers embedded solutions for such intelligent-vision applications as robotics, unmanned vehicles, whether in the air (UAVs) or on the ground (UGVs), and surveillance and monitoring. NextVPU is also undertaking R&D for ‘AngelEye’, the world’s first smart glasses to assist blind people in perceiving and negotiating the world safely.
In 2018, NextVPU unveiled its flagship AI vision processing chip, the N171. This VPU possesses unprecedented geometry-calculation and deep neural-network processing capabilities and is suitably emblematic of China’s AI achievements to date.
AI evolution in the Cambrian Era
The Beijing-based Cambricon Technologies first came to prominence in 2016, when it launched its first ‘Cambrian’ AI processor, the 1A, which has since been incorporated in millions of smartphones and other terminal devices.
In June 2019, Cambricon launched the second generation of its ‘Siyuan’ AI accelerator chips, the Siyuan 270 (MLU270) series, designed for AI processing in the cloud. This iteration of the Siyuan accelerator enhanced the peak deep-learning performance of the previous Siyuan generation, the Siyuan 100, by 4x. Associated Siyuan 270 board products include the Siyuan 270-S4 and 270-F4 smart accelerator cards.
The Siyuan 270 was selected as the leading scientific and technological achievement of the 6th World Internet Conference, and it provides customers with energy-efficient solutions in a variety of fields, including intelligent video analysis, speech synthesis, and AI processing in the cloud.
SenseTime drives Hong Kong leadership in AI theory
Founded in 2014, computer-vision specialist SenseTime has its roots in research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and the company remains headquartered in the Hong Kong Science Park. In the space of less than five years, SenseTime has cemented a formidable entry into the fast-evolving AI marketplace and has provided computer-vision technology to large Chinese companies, including the state-owned cellular provider China Mobile and online retailer JD.com, while forging strategic relationships worldwide. These commercial revenues add to successful rounds of venture funding, and SenseTime is now regarded as one the most highly valued AI startups.
Nevertheless, SenseTime has stayed close to its academic roots and a CUHK-SenseTime Joint Lab has delivered several hundred papers and presentations on AI topics and research. Further, in February 2018, SenseTime and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) announced a joint alliance for AI research. Also in 2018, SenseTime, Alibaba, and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) partnered to form a nonprofit AI lab in Hong Kong. The ‘HKAI Lab’ aims to “advance the frontiers of AI” and make Hong Kong one of the global hubs for AI.
At this blistering pace, what can we expect China to achieve in the field of AI by 2030?