New chip designs that handle more artificial intelligence tasks on tiny devices like sensors and cameras are promising faster speed and more privacy — and may help the world cut down on the increasing need for energy-gorging data centers.
Softbank-owned Arm Holdings said its two new designs can improve processing on devices by as much as 480 times, slashing dependence on the Internet or Cloud. The U.K.-based semiconductor tech firm said its Cortex M55 processor paired with the Ethos-U55 “neural processing unit” promises to help deliver on-device processing for billions of diverse products worldwide.
With the new technology, machine learning “on the tiniest devices will be the new normal, unleashing the potential of AI securely across a vast range of life-changing applications,” Dipti Vachani, senior vice president and general manager of Arm’s automotive and IoT business, said in a statement.
The chips are the latest examples of “Edge AI” in which data is stored and processed at the source where it is generated. By eliminating the need to connect to remote data centers through the Internet, Edge AI may help ease mounting concerns that data facilities are burning up so much energy — as much as 2% of total global power demand — that they are exacerbating the effects of global warming by boosting carbon emissions.
The Edge AI field is growing fast. Apple paid about $200 million to acquire Seattle start-up Xnor.ai, a developer of Edge AI tools, Geekwire reported last month. Google has an initiative called Coral that is focused on developing technology that can be used on devices without the need to connect to the Internet.
The worldwide Edge AI software market may surge to $1.15 billion by 2023, growing at an annual pace of 27% from 2018’s $355 million, Market Insights predicted in November. Major companies heavily involved in the technology include Intel, NVIDIA, Samsung Electronics, Microsoft and Huawei, Market Insights said.
Minimizing Internet connections will help ensure the privacy of collected data, an especially important factor in fields including health care.
“You may not want that data to move around,” Vachani told Reuters. The new technology “is going to give you low-power processing, to process data where it is best suited, where you want to keep that data.”
- Arm is a designer of chips but doesn’t produce any itself. Instead, it licenses its designs to semiconductor manufacturers like Qualcomm and device-makers like Apple. The new chip designs likely won’t reach market until 2021, Arm said.
- Softbank purchased U.K.-based Arm for about $31 billion in 2016 in what was the biggest-ever purchase of a European technology company at the time.