Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Sunday, February 28, 2021
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Edge AI Startup Kneron Attracts New Investors 

Kneron Inc., the AI startup specializing in “on-device” edge inferencing applications, has raised additional funding in the form of investments by Taiwanese manufacturing powerhouses Foxconn and Winbond.

San Diego-based Kneron said Tuesday (Jan. 20) it will work with Foxconn to develop AI platforms for Industry 4.0 and automotive applications. Foxconn’s MIH electronic vehicle platform will serve as the basis for further development, the partners said.

Kneron also said it will collaborate with Winbond (TPE: 2344) to develop AI and in-memory computing platforms based on microcontroller technology. The company declined to disclose the amount of the investments, saying only it was "eight figures," according to the web site Techcrunch.com.

Among Kneron’s early investors is wireless chip leader Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM) and Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, the venture arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant (NYSE: BABA). The new investment raises Kneron’s venture funding total to $73 million.

Founded in 2015, Kneron specializes in SoC AI chipsets, on-device AI algorithms and neural processing units (NPUs). The AI SoCs are used in applications such as supporting high-definition video, natural language processing and improved facial and audio recognition. They can also help accelerate neural network models used in visual and audio recognition applications.

The startup’s AI algorithms target machine learning applications that operate with limited memory capability, including facial and gesture recognition.

Kneron’s NPU technology is aimed at edge applications with complex computational requirements while reducing power consumption. The goal is balancing power consumption along with memory and storage requirements while maintaining performance at the network edge.

The company also promotes its AI approach as “reconfigurable,” allowing AI-based edge devices, for example, to switch from audio to visual recognition tasks in real time. That capability is based on compatibility with widely used AI frameworks such as TensorFlow and PyTorch as well as convolutional neural network models like ResNet. “By supporting mainstream AI models, Kneron’s technology benefits a wide range of edge use cases across smart home devices, IP cameras, laptops and driver monitoring systems,” market tracker Gartner noted in an industry survey released last fall covering the emerging edge AI sector.

Gartner credited the AI startup with enabling “greater AI workloads in disconnected environments at the very edge. This significantly increases the real-time business use cases where edge AI can deliver value and so expands its overall market potential.”

Kneron released its latest AI SoC dubbed KL720 last year. Albert Liu, Kneron’s founder and CEO, said the startup has more SoCs in the pipeline, with further releases scheduled for later this year. Along with industrial and automotive applications, those edge devices are expected to focus on AI inferencing at the edge as well as augmenting cloud-based inferencing used in edge devices.

--Editor's note: This story has been updated. 

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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