The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, 工研院) and US-based electronic design automation solution developer Synopsys Inc yesterday announced the establishment of a new laboratory in Taiwan, which is expected to speed up artificial intelligence (AI) chip development in the local semiconductor industry.
The AI Chip Design Lab aims to provide Taiwanese IC design houses with access to advanced design tools and design and verification services, lowering the barrier of entry to AI, ITRI and Synopsys said.
The facility is expected to shorten time to market for AI chips from two-and-a-half years to six months and enhance AI chip performance by 25 percent, Synopsys Asia Pacific senior vice president David Lin (林榮堅) said yesterday at the laboratory, located at ITRI headquarters in Hsinchu.
It is scheduled to officially start operations in October next year.
For the joint project, Synopsys would provide chip design tools, while ITRI would provide design and verification services, Lin said.
“There are a lot of painful points for medium and small design houses seeking to incorporate AI into their products,” ITRI Information and Communication Research Laboratories general director Chiueh Tzi-cker (闕志克) said. “They might not understand the algorithm. Even if they do, they might not know how to develop the processor architecture that will faithfully and efficiently execute the algorithm.”
Chiueh described Taiwan as a “distant second” to the US when it comes to IC design.
“On the one hand, top Taiwanese companies like MediaTek Inc (聯發科) are creating sophisticated system-on-chip smartphone processors,” Chiueh said. “But most smaller Taiwanese companies are working with lower-level chips found in devices such as USB drives and Bluetooth speakers.”
It is difficult for Taiwanese companies, especially medium and small design houses, to break into high-end IC design, he said, but added that firms could add value to their IC products by deploying AI.
“For instance, if a company already makes a chip that handles simple compression and decompression for cameras, we can help them add AI to their chip so that they can support functionality such as facial recognition,” Chiueh said.
The on-device AI trend creates smart devices that do not need to export all their data to the cloud for analysis, making them faster and more powerful, he said.
Before the collaboration with Synopsys, ITRI has been working with Taiwanese firms such as fingerprint verification company Egis Technology (神盾), to develop AI-on-chip systems, providing chip design, software development and market information.
The laboratory would be most helpful to medium and small IC design houses with a market cap of NT$10 billion (US$346.12 million) and below, he said, adding that “bigger companies can take care of things in-house.”