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ARM working on machine learning, neural networks

Posted: 04 Mar 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ARM  neural network  CPU  processor  machine learning 

ARM Holdings plc revealed that it holds some research interest in machine learning and neural networks but is not yet ready to say whether it can be turned into commercial business. The company had about a 46 per cent share of the global market with ₹8,053 crore ($1.2 billion) worth in business in 2014, according to Gartner, a market research firm.

ARM's 25 years of existence have seen it expand from the supply of 32bit CPU cores with the addition of GPUs, video processors and crypto-acceleration processors. Expanding ARM's processor domain is something the company is always looking at, said James McNiven, GM of ARM's CPU group.

In recent months companies such as IBM and Intel have been introducing general-purpose neural networking chips and cores to the market. There are also numerous smaller companies, startups and research groups focused on applying machine learning to applications such as computer vision.

James McNiven

Figure 1: McNiven: Where there are specific requirements we will take a look.

So what about machine learning and neural network cores as a next step in ARM's diversification?

"We have a lot of research interests. That's one of the areas," McNiven said. He added that there is a difference between something working at a technical level in R&D and it being a profitable commercial business proposition. McNiven declined to say more on the topic.

It is notable that even though ARM conducts its own R&D and has partnerships with universities around the world when it comes to making new business it often chooses to build product groups around skilled people that it acquires through company acquisitions.

To enter the GPU core market ARM acquired Falanx Microsystems AS (Trondheim, Norway) in 2006 and ditched a graphics partnership with Imagination Technologies Group plc. In 2015 ARM acquired Sansa Security Inc. (Kfar Netter, Israel) and Offspark BV (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) to beef up its IoT security offering, In the same year ARM acquired Wicentric Inc. and Sunrise Micro Devices Inc. to create a Bluetooth-related set of wireless protocol IP under the name Cordio.

"Where there are specific requirements we will take a look," McNiven said.

So an ARM acquisition of a small company expert in neural networks and machine learning could be the step that indicates that not only is deep learning technology fit for purpose but that the time is right for commercial exploitation.

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Figure 2: Top 10 semiconductor design IP vendors, ranked by 2014 revenue. (Source: Gartner)

- Peter Clarke
  EE Times Europe

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