Intel announces another megafab as chipmaker expands EU footprint

Intel announces another megafab as chipmaker expands EU footprint

Enlarge (credit: ony Avelar/Bloomberg)

Intel announced another string of investments yesterday, this time focused on shoring up its chipmaking efforts in Europe. The company has committed $36 billion so far, and if it completes all the projects it’s considering, it’ll spend nearly $88 billion across six countries.

The centerpiece of the investment is a megafab in Magdeburg, Germany, some 70 miles west of Berlin. Intel intends to break ground next year on two new fabs and start etching wafers in 2027 using the company’s “most advanced, Angstrom-era transistor technologies.” Which ones those will be will largely depend on how successful Intel’s aggressive R&D efforts are over the next few years. Total bill for this part of the project: $18.5 billion. The new fabs will add capacity to feed its foundry ambitions, which Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is betting will help the company regain the leading edge.

Next up are Intel’s existing fabs in Leixlip, Ireland. There, the semiconductor manufacturer is spending another $13 billion to upgrade and expand the factories to accommodate its Intel 4 process (previously known as 7 nm). The project is already underway and should start production in 2023.

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#eu, #fab, #intel, #policy, #semiconductors

Ford ships Explorers missing chips for rear-seat HVAC controls

Cars on an assembly line.

Enlarge / A Ford Explorer sports utility vehicle (SUV) sits for a final inspection at the Ford Motor Co. Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago on Monday, June 24, 2019. (credit: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg)

Ford’s new Explorer has had a rocky few years. Its rushed initial launch was marred by production problems that resulted in several recalls. When the chip shortage hit, Ford idled the Chicago Assembly Plant for four weeks last July and for another week in February.

Now, the chip shortage has struck the Explorer again, this time from the back seat. Ford has said that it will be shipping Explorers without rear-seat heating and air conditioning controls because the company doesn’t have semiconductors on hand, according to a report in Automotive News.

The rear HVAC can still be controlled by the driver or front-seat passenger, but those being chauffeured around will have to voice their requests rather than tap them in. (Parents may see this as a feature or a bug, depending on their children.)

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#cars, #chip-shortage, #ford, #semiconductors

Intel buys Tower Semiconductor for $5.4 billion to diversify foundry business

Intel buys Tower Semiconductor for $5.4 billion to diversify foundry business

(credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Intel has agreed to pay $5.4 billion to buy Tower Semiconductor, an Israeli foundry that focuses on specialty processes to make chips for imaging, power management, and wireless communications.

The acquisition is Intel’s latest move to add capacity and customers to its new foundry division, which focuses on making chips for other companies. CEO Pat Gelsinger is betting that by expanding capacity and making more semiconductors—not just its own—his company can claw its way get back to the leading edge. Today, just two firms, TSMC and Samsung, make the world’s most advanced chips.

“Tower’s specialty technology portfolio, geographic reach, deep customer relationships and services-first operations will help scale Intel’s foundry services and advance our goal of becoming a major provider of foundry capacity globally,” Gelsinger said in a statement.

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#chip-fab, #foundry, #intel, #policy, #semiconductors

Intel’s strategy for outflanking Arm takes shape with bet on RISC-V

Intel’s strategy for outflanking Arm takes shape with bet on RISC-V

Enlarge (credit: ony Avelar/Bloomberg)

Many of Intel’s current woes can be traced to the fact that the company was left out of the iPhone. Whether Intel passed on the opportunity or couldn’t meet the spec is by now a moot point, but missing out on the smartphone revolution—and its billions of chips—played no small part in the company falling behind the leading edge.

Now, Intel is ponying up $1 billion in an attempt to avoid repeating history.

The company announced an “innovation fund” this week that places bets on a couple of key technologies, chief among them RISC-V, a free, open source instruction set that shows promise in low-power and embedded systems, markets that are expected to grow significantly over the next several years.

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#arm, #chip-foundries, #intel, #nvidia, #policy, #risc-v, #semiconductors, #sifive, #tsmc

Fabs stretched thin as chip shortage shrinks inventories to just 5 days

A masked work in gloves holds up a computer component.

Enlarge / A worker checks a mainboard at a Vingroup production facility in Hanoi, Vietnam. (credit: NHAC NGUYEN/AFP)

US chip supplies are close to the breaking point as a new survey reveals diminished inventories and overstretched fabs.

The numbers put the chip shortage in stark relief. In 2021, companies that purchase semiconductors had less than five days of inventory on hand as opposed to the 40 days of inventory they had in 2019, according to a survey of more than 150 companies conducted by the US Department of Commerce. At the same time, demand was up 17 percent. Many of the companies surveyed said that demand exceeded their internal forecasts.

“We aren’t even close to being out of the woods as it relates to the supply problems with semiconductors,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a press call Tuesday. “The semiconductor supply chain is very fragile, and it’s going to remain that way until we can increase chip production in the United States.”

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#chip-shortage, #policy, #semiconductor-policy, #semiconductors

Nvidia ready to abandon Arm acquisition, report says

Nvidia ready to abandon Arm acquisition, report says

Enlarge (credit: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket)

Nvidia may be walking away from its acquisition of Arm Ltd., the British chip designer, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The blockbuster deal faced global scrutiny, and Nvidia apparently feels that it hasn’t made sufficient progress in convincing regulators that the acquisition won’t harm competition or national security. “Nvidia has told partners that it doesn’t expect the transaction to close, according to one person who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private,” Bloomberg reported.

In a further sign that the deal is likely to be abandoned, SoftBank is also working to take Arm public, according to the report.

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#antitrust, #arm, #nvidia, #policy, #semiconductors, #takeover

“Death Star” response from US would lock Russia out of 5G, advanced chips

Russian mobile phone networks could be severely hampered if mooted US tech sanctions go into effect.

Enlarge / Russian mobile phone networks could be severely hampered if mooted US tech sanctions go into effect. (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

The US is considering restricting the flow of semiconductors into Russia to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. The move would prevent the Russian military and much of the nation’s economy from advancing technologically.

The details of the sanctions are still being decided, but they would rely on similar restrictions that kneecapped Huawei, the Chinese tech company. Though most semiconductors are made overseas, US companies control huge swaths of the larger market, from chip design and manufacturing equipment to process and quality control. By restricting access to those companies’ products and services, the US can effectively limit Russian access to the latest chips, even if they’re made in other countries.

“It’s one of the tools that US has come to prefer because it’s painful but it doesn’t involve the use of force,” James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Ars. “It sort of freezes Russia at a technological moment.”

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#foreign-direct-product-rule, #policy, #russia, #sanctions, #semiconductors

Intel says Ohio “megafab” will begin making advanced chips in 2025

Intel's rendering of its two new leading-edge processor factories planned to be built outside Columbus, Ohio.

Enlarge / Intel’s rendering of its two new leading-edge processor factories planned to be built outside Columbus, Ohio. (credit: Intel)

Intel announced the location of its megafab today, a 1,000-acre parcel on the outskirts of the Columbus, Ohio, metro area. The semiconductor manufacturer plans to break ground on two leading-edge fabs by the end of the year and enter production in 2025.

“This is all part of the strategy that our CEO Pat Gelsinger announced back in March,” Intel Senior Vice President Keyvan Esfarjani told Ars.

“We are starting with two fabs, and that’s all in line with the growing demand for what the industry needs,” he said. “It’s also critically important for the balance of the supply chain around the world.”

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#chip-fab, #chips-for-america-act, #features, #intel, #lithography, #ohio, #policy, #semiconductors

Intel “mega-fab” coming to Ohio, reports say

Intel “mega-fab” coming to Ohio, reports say

Enlarge (credit: ony Avelar/Bloomberg)

Intel is reportedly planning to build a large chip facility in New Albany, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, the state capital. An official announcement is expected on January 21.

The company reportedly plans to invest $20 billion in the site, and the city of New Albany is working to annex up to 3,600 acres of land to accommodate the facility, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which first reported the deal.

Given the size of the parcel and the facility’s rumored price tag, it is likely the site of Intel’s “mega-fab,” which CEO Pat Gelsinger said would be like “a little city.” The mega-fab would contain six to eight modules, he said, and would focus on lithography processes and packaging techniques. Suppliers would have space on the site, too.

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#chip-fab, #foundry, #intel, #ohio, #policy, #semiconductors

FTC sues Nvidia to preserve Arm’s status as “Switzerland” of semiconductors

FTC sues Nvidia to preserve Arm’s status as “Switzerland” of semiconductors

Enlarge (credit: Arm)

The Federal Trade Commission has sued to block Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm, the semiconductor design firm, saying that the blockbuster deal would unfairly stifle competition.

“The FTC is suing to block the largest semiconductor chip merger in history to prevent a chip conglomerate from stifling the innovation pipeline for next-generation technologies,” Holly Vedova, director of the FTC’s competition bureau, said in a statement. “Tomorrow’s technologies depend on preserving today’s competitive, cutting-edge chip markets. This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals.”

Nvidia first announced its intention to acquire Arm in September 2020. At the time, the deal was worth $40 billion, but since then, Arm’s stock price has soared, and the cost of the cash and stock transaction has risen to $75 billion. The FTC lawsuit threatens to scuttle the deal entirely.

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#antitrust, #arm, #ftc, #nvidia, #policy, #semiconductors

No end in sight for chip shortage as supply chain problems pile up

An out-of-focus face examines a computer component.

Enlarge / A woman examines a mask—a part used in wafer conception—at a show room of the United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) factory in Tainan, southern Taiwan. (credit: Sam Yeh | Getty)

Earlier this year, the chip shortage seemed like it might ease sometime in 2022. Now, that forecast appears to have been optimistic.

“The shortages are going to continue indefinitely,” Brandon Kulik, head of Deloitte’s semiconductor industry practice, told Ars. “Maybe that doesn’t mean 10 years, but certainly we’re not talking about quarters. We’re talking about years.”

It is becoming clear that snarls in the semiconductor supply chain are weighing on economic growth. Yesterday, both GM and Ford said that missing chips led to slashed profits for the third quarter, and Apple is rumored to be cutting this year’s production targets for its iPhone lineup, the company’s cash cow. Chip woes have become so widespread that a division of Wells Fargo thinks the pressures will curtail US GDP growth by 0.7 percent.

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#chip-fab, #chip-shortage, #intel, #samsung, #semiconductors, #supply-chains, #tech, #tsmc

World’s largest chip foundry TSMC sets 2050 deadline to go carbon neutral

Signage for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) is displayed inside the company's headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Enlarge / Signage for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) is displayed inside the company’s headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan. (credit: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg)

The dirty secret of the computing and networking world is that most of its pollution comes not from the electricity used to run the devices, but from the energy and materials used to produce the chips that make it all possible.

In a typical laptop like a MacBook Air, manufacturing represents 74 percent of the device’s lifetime carbon emissions, including shipping, use, and disposal. Of that, about half is from integrated circuits, according to a recent study led by researchers at Harvard. Researchers have found similar trends throughout the industry. “Chip manufacturing, as opposed to hardware use and energy consumption, accounts for most of the carbon output attributable to hardware systems,” the study’s authors said.

That footprint may wane in the coming years, though, as TSMC announced last week that it would flatten its emissions growth by 2025 and reach net-zero carbon by 2050. That’ll be a tall order for a company that produced over 15 million tons of carbon pollution last year across the entire scope of its operations, about the same as the country of Ghana. Though the amount of carbon pollution per wafer produced by TSMC has declined in recent years, surging demand for semiconductors has driven overall emissions up, and years of rising energy use, likely from the introduction of EUV lithography, has slowed progress.

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#carbon-emissions, #climate-change, #net-zero, #policy, #semiconductors, #tsmc

Europe plans a Chips Act to boost semiconductor sovereignty

The EU will use legislation to push for greater resilience and sovereignty in regional semiconductor supply chains.

The bloc’s president trailed a forthcoming ‘European Chips Act’ in a state of the union speech today. Ursula von der Leyen suggested that gaining greater autonomy in chipmaking is now a key component of the EU’s overarching digital strategy.

She flagged the global shortage of semiconductors, which has led to slow downs in production for a range of products that rely on chips to drive data processing — from cars and trains to smartphones and other consumer electronics — as driving EU lawmakers’ concern about European capacity in this area.

“There is no digital without chips,” said von der Leyen. “While we speak, whole production lines are already working at reduced speed — despite growing demand — because of a shortage of semi-conductors.

“But while global demand has exploded, Europe’s share across the entire value chain, from design to manufacturing capacity has shrunk. We depend on state-of-the-art chips manufactured in Asia. So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So let’s put all of our focus on it.”

The Chips Act will aim to link together the EU’s semiconductor research, design and testing capacities, she said, calling for “coordination” between EU and national investments in this area to help boost the bloc’s self-sufficiency.

“The aim is to jointly create a state-of-the-art European chip ecosystem, including production. That ensures our security of supply and will develop new markets for ground-breaking European tech,” she added.

The EU president couched the ambition for bolstering European chip capacity as a “daunting task” but likened the mission to what the bloc did with its Galileo satellite navigation system two decades ago.

“Today European satellites provide the navigation system for more than 2 billion smartphones worldwide. We are world leaders. So let’s be bold again, this time with semi-conductors.”

In follow up remarks, the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, put a little more meat on the bones of the legislative plan — saying the Commission wants to integrate Member State efforts into a “coherent” pan-EU semiconductor strategy and also create a framework “to avoid a race to national public subsidies fragmenting the single market”.

The aim will be to “set conditions to protect European interests and place Europe firmly in the global geopolitical landscape”, he added.

Per Breton, the Chip Act will comprise three elements: Firstly, a semiconductor research strategy that will aim to build on work being done by institutions such as IMEC in Belgium, LETI/CEA in France and Fraunhofer in Germany.

“Building on the existing research partnership (the KDT Joint Undertaking), we need to up our game, and design a strategy to push the research ambitions of Europe to the next level while preserving our strategic interests,” he noted.

The second component will consist of a collective plan to boost European chipmaking capacity.

He said the planned legislation will aim to support chip supply chain monitoring and resilience across design, production, packaging, equipment and suppliers (e.g. producers of wafers).

The goal will be to support the development of European “mega fabs” that are able to produce high volumes of the most advanced (towards 2nm and below) and energy-efficient semiconductors.

However the EU isn’t planning for a future when it can make all the chips it needs itself.

The last plank of the European Chip Act will set out a framework for international co-operation and partnership.

“The idea is not to produce everything on our own here in Europe. In addition to making our local production more resilient, we need to design a strategy to diversify our supply chains in order to decrease over-dependence on a single country or region,” Breton went on. “And while the EU aims to remain the top global destination of foreign investment and we welcome foreign investment to help increase our production capacity especially in high-end technology, through the European Chips Act we will also put the right conditions in place to preserve Europe’s security of supply.”

“The US are now discussing a massive investment under the American Chips Act designed to finance the creation of an American research centre and to help open up advanced production factories. The objective is clear: to increase the resilience of US semiconductor supply chains,” he added.

“Taiwan is positioning itself to ensure its primacy on semiconductor manufacturing. China, too, is trying to close the technological gap as it is constrained by export control rules to avoid technological transfers. Europe cannot and will not lag behind.”

In additional documentation released today, the EU said the Chips Act will build on other digital initiatives already presented by the Von der Leyen Commission — such as moves to contain the power of “gatekeeper” Internet giants and increase platforms’ accountability (the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act); regulate high risk applications of AI (the Artificial Intelligence Act); tackle online disinformation (via a beefed up code of practice); and boost investment in regional digital infrastructure and skills.

#consumer-electronics, #digital-markets-act, #digital-services-act, #europe, #european-chips-act, #european-commission, #european-union, #fraunhofer, #hardware, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #supply-chain, #thierry-breton, #ursula-von-der-leyen

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

Startups are hard work, but the complexities of global supply chains can make running hardware companies especially difficult. Instead of existing within a codebase behind a screen, the key components of your hardware product can be scattered around the world, subject to the volatility of the global economy.

I’ve spent most of my career establishing global supply chains, setting up manufacturing lines for 3D printers, electric bicycles and home fitness equipment on the ground in Mexico, Hungary, Taiwan and China. I’ve learned the hard way that Murphy’s law is a constant companion in the hardware business.

But after more than a decade of work on three different continents, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that will help you avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Expect cost fluctuations, especially in currency and shipping

Shipping physical products is quite different from “shipping” code — you have to pay a considerable amount of money to transport products around the world. Of course, shipping costs become a line item like any other as they get baked into the overall business plan. The issue is that those costs can change monthly — sometimes drastically.

At this time last year, a shipping container from China cost $3,300. Today, it’s almost $18,000 — a more than fivefold increase in 12 months. It’s safe to assume that most 2020 business plans did not account for such a cost increase for a key line item.

Shipping a buggy hardware product can be exponentially costlier than shipping buggy software. Recalls, angry customers, return shipping and other issues can become existential problems.

Similar issues also arise with currency exchange rates. Contract manufacturers often allow you to maintain cost agreements for any fluctuations below 5%, but the dollar has dropped much more than 5% against the yuan compared to a year ago, and hardware companies have been forced to renegotiate their manufacturing contracts.

As exchange rates become less favorable and shipping costs increase, you have two options: Operate with lower margins, or pass along the cost to the end customer. Neither choice is ideal, but both are better than going bankrupt.

The takeaway is that when you set up your business, you need to prepare for these possibilities. That means operating with enough margin to handle increased costs, or with the confidence that your end customer will be able to handle a higher price.

Overorder critical parts

Over the past year, many businesses have lost billions of dollars in market value because they didn’t order enough semiconductors. As the owner of a hardware company, you will encounter similar risks.

The supply for certain components, like computer chips, can be limited, and shortages can arise quickly if demand increases or supply chains get disrupted. It’s your job to analyze potential choke points in your supply chain and create redundancies around them.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-hardware, #ec-how-to, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #hardware, #logistics, #manufacturing, #semiconductors, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Intel Foundry Services gets a boost from $100M Pentagon award for US-made chips

Intel Foundry Services gets a boost from $100M Pentagon award for US-made chips

Enlarge (credit: ony Avelar/Bloomberg)

Intel announced Monday that it has been awarded a contract for foundry services through a Department of Defense program intended to support leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing in the US. 

Though Intel’s share of the estimated $100 million award wasn’t disclosed, it is certain to boost Intel’s fledgling Foundry Services division that was announced in March as a part of the company’s IDM 2.0 strategy. The company will be working alongside IBM and electronic design automation companies Cadence and Synopsys. The program, known as “Rapid Assured Microelectronics Prototypes—Commercial or RAMP-C,” seeks to expand the Pentagon’s access to trusted, secure, and reliable chips from sub-7 nm process technology.

“One of the most profound lessons of the past year is the strategic importance of semiconductors and the value to the United States of having a strong domestic semiconductor industry,” Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said. “When we launched Intel Foundry Services earlier this year, we were excited to have the opportunity to make our capabilities available to a wider range of partners, including in the US government, and it is great to see that potential being fulfilled through programs like RAMP-C.”

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#department-of-defense, #intel, #pentagon, #policy, #semiconductors, #tsmc

Top four highlights of Elon Musk’s Tesla AI Day

Elon Musk wants Tesla to be seen as “much more than an electric car company.” On Thursday’s Tesla AI Day, the CEO described Tesla as a company with “deep AI activity in hardware on the inference level and on the training level” that can be used down the line for applications beyond self-driving cars, including a humanoid robot that Tesla is apparently building.

Tesla AI Day, which started after a rousing 45 minutes of industrial music pulled straight from “The Matrix” soundtrack, featured a series of Tesla engineers explaining various Tesla tech with the clear goal of recruiting the best and brightest to join Tesla’s vision and AI team and help the company go to autonomy and beyond.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work to make it work and that’s why we need talented people to join and solve the problem,” said Musk.

Like both “Battery Day” and “Autonomy Day,” the event on Thursday was streamed live on Tesla’s YouTube channel. There was a lot of super technical jargon, but here are the top four highlights of the day.

Tesla Bot: A definitely real humanoid robot

This bit of news was the last update to come out of AI Day before audience questions began, but it’s certainly the most interesting. After the Tesla engineers and executives talked about computer vision, the Dojo supercomputer and the Tesla chip (all of which we’ll get to in a moment), there was a brief interlude where what appeared to be an alien go-go dancer appeared on the stage, dressed in a white body suit with a shiny black mask as a face. Turns out, this wasn’t just a Tesla stunt, but rather an intro to the Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot that Tesla is actually building.

Image Credits: Tesla

When Tesla talks about using its advanced technology in applications outside of cars, we didn’t think he was talking about robot slaves. That’s not an exaggeration. CEO Elon Musk envisions a world in which the human drudgery like grocery shopping, “the work that people least like to do,” can be taken over by humanoid robots like the Tesla Bot. The bot is 5’8″, 125 pounds, can deadlift 150 pounds, walk at 5 miles per hour and has a screen for a head that displays important information.

“It’s intended to be friendly, of course, and navigate a world built for humans,” said Musk. “We’re setting it such that at a mechanical and physical level, you can run away from it and most likely overpower it.”

Because everyone is definitely afraid of getting beat up by a robot that’s truly had enough, right?

The bot, a prototype of which is expected for next year, is being proposed as a non-automotive robotic use case for the company’s work on neural networks and its Dojo advanced supercomputer. Musk did not share whether the Tesla Bot would be able to dance.

Unveiling of the chip to train Dojo

Image Credits: Tesla

Tesla director Ganesh Venkataramanan unveiled Tesla’s computer chip, designed and built entirely in-house, that the company is using to run its supercomputer, Dojo. Much of Tesla’s AI architecture is dependent on Dojo, the neural network training computer that Musk says will be able to process vast amounts of camera imaging data four times faster than other computing systems. The idea is that the Dojo-trained AI software will be pushed out to Tesla customers via over-the-air updates. 

The chip that Tesla revealed on Thursday is called “D1,” and it contains a 7 nm technology. Venkataramanan proudly held up the chip that he said has GPU-level compute with CPU connectivity and twice the I/O bandwidth of “the state of the art networking switch chips that are out there today and are supposed to be the gold standards.” He walked through the technicalities of the chip, explaining that Tesla wanted to own as much of its tech stack as possible to avoid any bottlenecks. Tesla introduced a next-gen computer chip last year, produced by Samsung, but it has not quite been able to escape the global chip shortage that has rocked the auto industry for months. To survive the shortage, Musk said during an earnings call this summer that the company had been forced to rewrite some vehicle software after having to substitute in alternate chips. 

Aside from limited availability, the overall goal of taking the chip production in-house is to increase bandwidth and decrease latencies for better AI performance.

“We can do compute and data transfers simultaneously, and our custom ISA, which is the instruction set architecture, is fully optimized for machine learning workloads,” said Venkataramanan at AI Day. “This is a pure machine learning machine.”

Venkataramanan also revealed a “training tile” that integrates multiple chips to get higher bandwidth and an incredible computing power of 9 petaflops per tile and 36 terabytes per second of bandwidth. Together, the training tiles compose the Dojo supercomputer. 

To Full Self-Driving and beyond

Many of the speakers at the AI Day event noted that Dojo will not just be a tech for Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) system, it’s definitely impressive advanced driver assistance system that’s also definitely not yet fully self-driving or autonomous. The powerful supercomputer is built with multiple aspects, such as the simulation architecture, that the company hopes to expand to be universal and even open up to other automakers and tech companies.

“This is not intended to be just limited to Tesla cars,” said Musk. “Those of you who’ve seen the full self-driving beta can appreciate the rate at which the Tesla neural net is learning to drive. And this is a particular application of AI, but I think there’s more applications down the road that will make sense.”

Musk said Dojo is expected to be operational next year, at which point we can expect talk about how this tech can be applied to many other use cases.

Solving computer vision problems

During AI Day, Tesla backed its vision-based approach to autonomy yet again, an approach that uses neural networks to ideally allow the car to function anywhere on earth via its “Autopilot” system. Tesla’s head of AI, Andrej Karpathy, described Tesla’s architecture as “building an animal from the ground up” that moves around, senses its environment and acts intelligently and autonomously based on what it sees.

Andrej Karpathy, head of AI at Tesla, explaining how Tesla manages data to achieve computer vision-based semi-autonomous driving. Image Credits: Tesla

“So we are building of course all of the mechanical components of the body, the nervous system, which has all the electrical components, and for our purposes, the brain of the autopilot, and specifically for this section the synthetic visual cortex,” he said.

Karpathy illustrated how Tesla’s neural networks have developed over time, and how now, the visual cortex of the car, which is essentially the first part of the car’s “brain” that processes visual information, is designed in tandem with the broader neural network architecture so that information flows into the system more intelligently.  

The two main problems that Tesla is working on solving with its computer vision architecture are temporary occlusions (like cars at a busy intersection blocking Autopilot’s view of the road beyond) and signs or markings that appear earlier in the road (like if a sign 100 meters back says the lanes will merge, the computer once upon a time had trouble remembering that by the time it made it to the merge lanes).

To solve for this, Tesla engineers fell back on a spatial recurring network video module, wherein different aspects of the module keep track of different aspects of the road and form a space-based and time-based queue, both of which create a cache of data that the model can refer back to when trying to make predictions about the road.

The company flexed its over 1,000-person manual data labeling team and walked the audience through how Tesla auto-labels certain clips, many of which are pulled from Tesla’s fleet on the road, in order to be able to label at scale. With all of this real-world info, the AI team then uses incredible simulation, creating “a video game with Autopilot as the player.” The simulations help particularly with data that’s difficult to source or label, or if it’s in a closed loop.

Background on Tesla’s FSD

At around minute forty in the waiting room, the dubstep music was joined by a video loop showing Tesla’s FSD system with the hand of a seemingly alert driver just grazing the steering wheel, no doubt a legal requirement for the video after investigations into Tesla’s claims about the capabilities of its definitely not autonomous advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration earlier this week said they would open a preliminary investigation into Autopilot following 11 incidents in which a Tesla crashed into parked emergency vehicles. 

A few days later, two U.S. Democratic senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla’s marketing and communication claims around Autopilot and the “Full Self-Driving” capabilities. 

Tesla released the beta 9 version of Full Self-Driving to much fanfare in July, rolling out the full suite of features to a few thousand drivers. But if Tesla wants to keep this feature in its cars, it’ll need to get its tech up to a higher standard. That’s where Tesla AI Day comes in. 

“We basically want to encourage anyone who is interested in solving real-world AI problems at either the hardware or the software level to join Tesla, or consider joining Tesla,” said Musk.

And with technical nuggets as in-depth as the ones featured on Thursday plus a bumping electronic soundtrack, what red-blooded AI engineer wouldn’t be frothing at the mouth to join the Tesla crew?

You can watch the whole thing here: 

#artificial-intelligence, #computer-vision, #elon-musk, #semiconductors, #tesla, #tesla-ai-day, #transportation

Motivo raises $12M Series A to speed up chip design with AI

Chip design is a long slog of trial and error, taking years to bring a design to market. Motivo, a five year old startup from a chip industry veteran is creating software to speed up chip design from years to months using AI. Today the company announced a $12 million Series A.

Intel Capital led the round along with new investors Storm Ventures and Seraph Group, as well as participation from Inventus Capital. The company reports it has now raised a total of $20 million with its previous seed funding.

Motivo co-founder and CEO Bharath Rangarajan has worked in the chip industry for 30 years, and he saw a few fundamental trends and issues. For starters, the chip design process is highly time-intensive, taking years to come up with a successful candidate, and typically the first to market wins.

What’s more, Moore’s Law where you fit more and more electronics onto an increasingly powerful chip increases the complexity of these designs, and once in production, there is a lot of waste producing them. Rangarajan started the company to put artificial intelligence to work on the design process and bring chips to market faster with more accuracy in the production cycle.

“We can train an AI engine to bring about human judgment, and do a lot of design for manufacturability on the design without causing any other issue. So we avoid all these iteration loops [and we can also] design code and validation and timing and again we’re going from weeks and months to days,” he said.

The company’s ultimate goal is to take the chip design process and distill it down using software and intelligence from three years to three months, and while they are not there yet, they have started to attack the problem, and have a working product that looks at chip layout, the underlying RTL code that runs the chip and the netlist, which describes how the various pieces and electronics on the chip connect together.

One other differentiator is that the company is trying to make its AI transparent to explain why it made the decisions it did. “A lot of AI is just a black box. I don’t know why the self-driving car suddenly decided to swerve here. Our AI is understandable. We built the solution so that we can tell you why the AI is saying change the chip this way, or why it’s saying change it that way,” Rangarajan explained.

The company has paying customers. Although it can’t name them, there is probably a limited market for this kind of software, so you could make an educated guess that it’s the chip companies, especially with Intel Capital a lead investor on this round. At this point, the company has 15 employees, 12 of them being full time with plans to double or even triple over the next year, depending on how things go.

Hiring is always challenging for a company with a specific engineering focus like this one, but Rangarajan says that the team is already fairly diverse, and he is definitely looking at keeping that going as he builds the company. “We have to find the right people to join the company and you’re looking for any and all sorts of great people or backgrounds. […] In fact, the more the merrier as far as we’re concerned. We’ve got very experienced people who’ve grown up in the industry and we’ve still built up a fairly diverse team here,” he said.

For now, he plans to keep the office hybrid where people who want to come in can come in, but people who don’t want to like those with younger kids who aren’t vaccinated yet, can continue to work from home, he said. And that flexibility should continue even after offices open more completely.

#artificial-intelligence, #chip-design, #funding, #hardware, #intel-capital, #motivo, #recent-funding, #semiconductors, #startups

China roundup: Keep down internet upstarts, cultivate hard tech

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

The tech industry in China has had quite a turbulent week. The government is upending its $100 billion private education sector, wiping billions from the market cap of the industry’s most lucrative players. Meanwhile, the assault on Chinese internet giants continued. Tech stocks tumbled after Tencent suspended user registration, sparking fears over who will be the next target of Beijing’s wrath.

Incisive observers point out that the new wave of stringent regulations against China’s internet and education firms has long been on Beijing’s agenda and there’s nothing surprising. Indeed, the central government has been unabashed about its desires to boost manufacturing and contain the unchecked powers of its service industry, which can include everything from internet platforms, film studios to after-school centers.

A few weeks ago I had an informative conversation with a Chinese venture capitalist who has been investing in industrial robots for over a decade, so I’m including it in this issue as it provides useful context for what’s going on in the consumer tech industry this week.

Automate the factories

China is putting robots into factories at an aggressive pace. Huang He, a partner at Northern Light Venture Capital, sees three forces spurring the demand for industrial robots — particularly ones that are made in China.

Over the years, Beijing has advocated for “localization” in a broad range of technology sectors, from enterprise software to production line automation. One may start to see Chinese robots that can rival those of Schneider and Panasonic a few years down the road. CRP, an NLVC-backed industrial robot maker, is already selling across Southeast Asia, Russia and East Europe.

On top of tech localization, it’s also well acknowledged that China is facing a severe demographic crisis. The labor shortage in its manufacturing sector is further compounded by the reluctance of young people to do menial factory work. Factory robots could offer a hand.

“Youngsters these days would rather become food delivery riders than work in a factory. The work that robots replace is the low-skilled type, and those that still can’t be taken up by robots pay well and come with great benefits,” Huang observed.

Large corporations in China still lean toward imported robots due to the products’ proven stability. The problem is that imported robots are not only expensive but also selective about their users.

“Companies need to have deep technical capabilities to be able to operate these [Western] robots, but such companies are rare in China,” said Huang, adding that the overwhelming majority of Chinese enterprises are small and medium size.

With the exceptions of the automotive and semiconductor industries, which still largely rely on sophisticated, imported robots, affordable, easy-to-use Chinese robots can already meet most of the local demand for industrial automation, Huang said.

China currently uses nearly one million six-axis robots a year but only manufactures 20% of them itself. The gap, coupled with a national plan for localization, has led to a frenzy of investments in industrial robotics startups.

The rush isn’t necessarily a good thing, said Huang. “There’s this bizarre phenomenon in China, where the most funded and valuable industrial robotic firms are generating less than 30 million yuan in annual revenue and not really heard of by real users in the industry.”

“This isn’t an industry where giants can be created by burning through cash. It’s not the internet sector.”

Small-and-medium-size businesses are happily welcoming robots onto factory floors. Take welding for example. An average welder costs about 150,000 yuan ($23,200) a year. A typical welding robot, which is sold for 120,000 yuan, can replace up to three workers a year and “doesn’t complain at work,” said the investor. A quality robot can work continuously for six to eight years, so the financial incentive to automate is obvious.

Advanced manufacturing is not just helping local bosses. It will eventually increase foreign enterprises’ dependence on China for its efficiency, making it hard to cut off Chinese supply chains despite efforts to avoid the geopolitical risks of manufacturing in China.

“In electronics, for example, most of the supply chains are in China, so factories outside China end up spending more on logistics to move parts around. Much of the 3C manufacturing is already highly automated, which relies heavily on electricity, but in most emerging economies, the power supply is still quite unstable, which disrupts production,” said Huang.

War on internet titans

The shock of antitrust regulations against Alibaba from last year is still reverberating, but another wave of scrutiny has already begun. Shortly after Didi’s blockbuster IPO in New York, the ride-hailing giant was asked to cease user registration and work on protecting user information critical to national security.

On Tuesday, Tencent stocks fell the most in a decade after it halted user signups on its WeChat messenger as it “upgrades” its security technology to align with relevant laws and regulations. The gaming and social media giant is just the latest in a growing list of companies hit by Beijing’s tightening grip on the internet sector, which had been flourishing for two decades under laissez-faire policies.

Underlying the clampdowns is Beijing’s growing unease with the service industry’s unscrutinized accumulation of wealth and power. China is unequivocally determined to advance its tech sector, but the types of tech that Beijing wants are not so much the video games that bring myopia to children and algorithms that get adults hooked to their screens. China makes it clear in its five-year plan, a series of social and economic initiatives, that it will go all-in on “hard tech” like semiconductors, renewable energy, agritech, biotech and industrial automation like factory robotics.

China has also vowed to fight inequality in education and wealth. In the authorities’ eyes, expensive, for-profit after-schools dotting big cities are hindering education attainment for children from poorer areas, which eventually exacerbates the wealth gap. The new regulatory measures have restricted the hours, content, profits and financing of private tutoring institutions, tanking stocks of the industry’s top companies. Again, there have been clear indications from President Xi Jinping’s writings to bring off-campus tutoring “back on the educational track.” All China-focused investors and analysts are now poring over Xi’s thoughts and directives.

#asia, #beijing, #china, #china-roundup, #enterprise-software, #government, #hardware, #industrial-robot, #made-in-china, #manufacturing, #northern-light-venture-capital, #robot, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #southeast-asia, #tc, #tencent, #xi-jinping

Semiconductor wafer producer SK Siltron to invest $300M in US to boost EV supply chain

The United States has fallen behind China and Europe in the production and adoption of electric vehicles, especially from 2017 to 2020, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. One important piece of the puzzle that the U.S. does have supremacy in, however, is the production of semiconductors, which are used in everything from smartphones to computers to electric vehicles. Now, it might be strengthening that hold.

SK Siltron CSS, a unit of South Korean semiconductor wafer manufacturer, SK Siltron, announced Wednesday plans to invest $300 million and create up to 150 high-paying, skilled jobs in Bay County, Michigan, which is about a couple hours north of Detroit, the country’s first automaking haven. The wafer manufacturer already has a presence in nearby Auburn, so the new factory will more than double its employee base. Over the next three years, SK Siltron says its investment will provide manufacturing and R&D capabilities of advanced materials for electric vehicles.

SK Siltron CSS Chief Executive Jianwei Dong told Reuters, which first reported the news, the $300 million investment would “help develop a domestic EV supply chain based in Michigan because we have our end customers in nearby communities.”

This new investment comes amid an ever-increasing lineup of new electric vehicles and investments in electrification from American automakers, including legacy companies General Motors and Ford as well as Tesla and upstarts such as Rivian.

It’s also joining the sticky pot of trade wars between China and the U.S.

China has owned EV production globally, producing 44% of all vehicles made from 2010 to 2020, but the U.S. has put a strangle hold on semiconductors, consistently blocking China from acquiring other chipmakers. Strong policies that both invest in EV production and spur demand have proven successful in both China and Europe, according to the ICCT report. The Biden administration’s call for $174 billion in funding to expand EV subsidies and charging networks could help the country catch up.

“As we build toward a more sustainable future, it is important that we create new, robust supply chains in the U.S. to support our corporations and the end consumer,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo in a statement. “The automotive industry has a tremendous opportunity with the rise of the electric vehicle, and we’re excited to see companies like SK Siltron CSS expanding to help support the transition to a green future.”

The SK Siltron CSS expansion still needs approval from state and local authorities, the company said, although it’s unlikely it will meet much resistance. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation said the state has been trying to attract EV-related jobs, spending nearly $9 billion in investments over the last two years and adding more than 10,000 jobs for the EV transition. SK Siltron said as it works with the state and local agencies to find employees, 70% will be skilled workers and the rest will be professional engineers.

Wafers 101

A wafer is a thin slice of semiconductor that’s used to make integrated circuits, which essentially help make semiconductor chips smaller and faster. The wafer serves as the base upon which the rest of the semiconductor is built, making it crucial ingredient to the whole process. EVs need semiconductors because they allow batteries to operate at higher voltages, drive the powertrain and support modern car features like touchscreen interactivity.

SK Siltron’s wafer is made of silicon carbide, which can handle higher powers and conduct heat better than normal silicon, the company says.

“When used in EV system components, this characteristic can allow a more efficient transfer of electricity from the battery to the motor, increasing the driving range of an EV by 5% to 10%,” the company said in a statement.

The wafers can also be used in 5G communications equipment, and Dong told Reuters that the company is also considering additional investments.

#automotive, #biden-administration, #chips, #electric-vehicles, #semiconductor, #semiconductor-wafers, #semiconductors, #sk-siltron-css, #south-korea, #tc, #transportation

Bosch opens $1.2 billion chip plant in Germany

Germany technology and parts supplier Robert Bosch opened a €1 billion ($1.2 billion) chip factory in Dresden, Germany on Monday, the single largest investment in the company’s history. The plant, which will mainly supply automotive customers, is a major signal that connected and electric vehicles are here to stay.

“Regardless of which powertrain we talk about … always we need a semiconductor and sensor,” Bosch’s executive vice president of automotive electronics Jens Fabrowsky told TechCrunch.

The plant will handle front-of-the-line processing, or wafer fabrication, in the semiconductor manufacturing process. The 300-millimeter wafers will be sent to partners, typically in Asia, to do packaging and assembly of the semiconductors.

300 millimeters is a “new field of technology,” Fabrowsky explained. As opposed to the 150- or 200-millimeter wafers that are produced at Bosch’s nearby factory in Reutlingen, Germany, the larger wafer size offers greater economies of scale because you can produce more individual chips per wafer.

The 77,500-square-foot plant will run on what Bosch calls “AIoT,” a term that combines artificial intelligence and Internet of Things to denote a fully connected and data-driven system that’s unique to the facility. Bosch will not only have real-time data on the approximately 100 machines, but also on the power, water and other aspects of the facility — up to 500 pages of data per second, Fabrowsky said. The AI-driven algorithm should detect an anomaly from any of the connected sensors immediately.

Despite its high levels of automation, the plant will employ around 700 people once it is fully operational.

It is unclear whether the plant will help resolve the ongoing global semiconductor shortage, which has forced automakers like General Motors and Ford to slash production volumes and temporarily shutter manufacturing facilities.

“At the point when we decided [to build the plant] it was purely driven by technology,” Fabrowsky said. “It was clear we needed to go into 300 [millimeters], and we needed to invest in some more capacity.”

The facility will begin production in July with chips for power tools before beginning production on automotive chips in September. It generally takes over 20 weeks to make a semiconductor chip, Fabrowsky said, including 600 individual steps in the wafer facility alone.

The company will also be investing €50 million ($61 million) to extend the clean room facilities at its Reutlingen plant, Bosch board member Harald Kroeger said at a media briefing Monday.

Bosch has applied to Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy under a microelectronics investment program to subsidize expenditures for the plant of up to €200 million ($244 million). It must submit evidence of expenditures before it receives the funds, a Bosch spokesperson told TechCrunch.

#automotive, #bosch, #semiconductors, #tc, #transportation

Congressmen ask Biden admin to keep chip design software away from China

Congressmen ask Biden admin to keep chip design software away from China

Enlarge (credit: China News Service | Getty Images)

Don’t let American companies sell semiconductor design software to Chinese firms, two members of Congress are asking the Department of Commerce. 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R- Ark.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) yesterday requested that electronic design automation (EDA) tools be designated as “foundational technologies” by the Department of Commerce. The label would require companies to obtain export licenses if they want to sell EDA tools to Chinese companies. The congressmen also requested in their letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo that any fab worldwide that uses American tools be prevented from selling 14 nm or better chips to Chinese companies.

The current leading edge in semiconductors is the 5 nm node, and currently, only Samsung and Taiwanese semiconductor company TSMC are producing chips commercially at that node. Restricting Chinese companies to 16 nm or larger could possibly keep them four generations off the leading edge. 

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#china, #chip-design, #export-controls, #policy, #semiconductors

Chip shortage shows no signs of abating, may drag into 2022

300mm silicon wafer

Enlarge (credit: Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Auto manufacturers and other companies are hoping that the global chip shortage will end soon, but snarled semiconductor supply chains may not untangle until next year.

The mess began when the pandemic upended the market for semiconductors. As demand for cars plummeted, automakers slashed their orders. But at the same time, demand for chips that power laptops and data centers skyrocketed. That bifurcation shifted the market, and when car and truck sales rebounded, semiconductor manufacturers rushed to meet demand. Soon, though, shortages of key components emerged. The industry is known for planning—and for its long lead times—so it could take a while for the chip market to sort itself out.

“There seems to be a broad consensus that it will stabilize by the end of the year,” Chris Richard, principal in Deloitte’s supply chain and network operations practice, told Ars. “But if I go back to 2008 and the financial crisis, it was a couple years after the rebound started before everything smoothed out again.”

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#automotive, #global-semiconductor-market, #policy, #semiconductors

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

Fab fires and drought threaten to make chip shortages worse

Semiconductor supply chains have not been having a good year. Shifts in demand brought on by COVID-19 have slammed into a series of fab and factory fires, the effects of which have been cascading throughout the global economy. Now, the semiconductor industry is being threatened by Taiwan’s worst drought in 67 years.

Chip shortages have rippled through various industries in recent months. Automakers have cut back production, citing supply issues. Automotive shortages are somewhat of the industry’s own making—when the pandemic hit over a year ago, automakers cut production and chip orders. Meanwhile, demand for consumer electronics surged, snapping up excess fab capacity. When car and truck sales rebounded months later, semiconductor manufacturers had no slack to meet demand. Recently, even consumer electronics companies have been finding it hard to secure a steady supply of chips for their products.

Taiwan’s drought began when typhoons failed to make landfall last year. Today, drought conditions cover a significant portion of the densely populated western third of Taiwan, extending from Hsinchu south to Kaohsiung, an arcing span of more than 150 miles on an island that’s only about 240 miles long. Water levels in major reservoirs have been as low as 10 percent of their capacity, and they’re currently being stabilized by water piped in from Taipei, which has so far avoided the worst of the drought.

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#drought, #fire, #japan, #policy, #semiconductors, #supply-chain, #taiwan

Mithril dives into chips again with a $55M infusion to Flex Logix

The once untouchable semiconductor sector continues to attract fervent attention from VCs.

The latest news this morning is that Ajay Royan of Mithril Capital has led a $55 million Series D round of financing into Flex Logix, which builds chips designed to bring AI workflows to the compute edge. That follows on earlier rounds in the company totaling $27 million from the likes of Lux, Eclipse Ventures and Tate Family Trust, the investment vehicle of the company’s founder and CEO Geoff Tate.

This isn’t Mithril’s first foray into the chip investing world. The firm previously backed Nuvia, a promising entrant in the server chip market which was founded by several of the top chip designers of Apple’s A-line of processors. Mithril invested $240 million in Nuvia last September, just a few months before the company flipped over to Qualcomm in a $1.4 billion transaction announced in January.

Back to Flex Logix though: we last covered the company in October, when it announced the availability of its X1 AI chip. As I wrote at the time:

Flex Logix wants to bring AI processing workflows to the compute edge, which means it wants to offer technology that adds artificial intelligence to products like medical imaging equipment and robotics. At the edge, processing power obviously matters, but so does size and price. More efficient chips are easier to include in products, where pricing may put constraints on the cost of individual components.

Mithril in its statement noted the company’s strength in designing a competitive processor which meets tight power and cost requirements in a white-hot segment of semiconductors. It also was excited that Flex Logix has developed a strong well of intellectual property in the eFPGA space, where there has been energetic activity given increasing interest from customers for flexible processors that can adapt to application needs over time.

For more information on Flex Logix and its founding story, read our earlier profile.

#flex-logix, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #semiconductors, #startups

Taiwanese reassurances that water shortages won’t hit chipmaking show climate change’s direct threat to tech

A weekend statement from the Taiwanese government over its ability to provide water to the nation’s chip manufacturers in the face of an unprecedented drought make it clear that climate change is a direct threat to the foundations of the tech industry.

As reported by Bloomberg, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook on Sunday to post about the nation’s capacity to provide water to its citizens and businesses in the face of the worst drought the nation has faced in 56 years.

The nation said that it would have sufficient water reserves to ensure manufacturing of semiconductors by companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing wouldn’t stop.

These chips sit at the foundation of the tech industry and any disruption in production could have disastrous consequences for the global economy. Already, supply constraints have caused stoppages at automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen, and chip manufacturing facilities are running close to capacity.

The Biden administration has emphasized the need for the U.S. to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing supply when it issued an executive order last month to address ongoing chip shortages that have idled manufacturing plants around the country.

“Taiwan’s water shortage and its effect on semis is a wake up call for every technology investor, every founder and the entire venture ecosystem. It is complexity theory made manifest and only serves to show that scalable, data-driven solutions rapidly deployed across large industrial markets are our only hope in correcting the course,” wrote Vaughn Blake, a partner at the energy-focused investment firm Blue Bear Capital.

Taiwan’s water woes and their ability to severely impact the semiconductor industry aren’t new. They were even flagged in a 2016 Harvard Business School case study analysis. And TSMC is already working to address its water consumption.

By 2016, TSMC had already worked to improve its water purification and recycling efforts — necessary for an industry that consumes between 2-9 million gallons of water per day. (Intel alone used 9 billion gallons of water in 2015). At least some of TSMC’s fabrication facilities have managed to achieve recycling rates of 90% on industrial wastewater, according to the Harvard case study.

But as Moore’s Law drives down the size and increases the demand for even more precision and fewer impurities in the manufacturing process, water use at fabs is going up. Next generation chips may be consuming as much as 1.5 times more water, which means better recycling is needed to compensate.

For startups, we need to be looking at ways to lower the cost and improve the performance of wastewater recycling and desalination, both increasingly energy-intensive propositions.

Some companies are doing just that. These are businesses like Blue Boson out of the UK, which purports to have developed a quantum-based water treatment technology. Its claims sound more like science fiction, but its website touts some of the best research universities in the world. Fido, a leak detection company also out of the UK tracks potential spots where water is wasted, and both Pontic Technology and Micronic are American companies developing water and fluid sterilization systems.

Numix, another purification startup, seems designed to remove the heavy metals that are part and parcel of industrial manufacturing. And Divining Labs out of Los Angeles is using artificial intelligence to better predict and manage stormwater runoff to collect more resources for water use.

“Upton Sinclair said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it,’” Blake of Blue Bear Capital wrote. “Well, to all the founders and investors out there, it looks like all tech is climate tech for the foreseeable future, lest there be no tech at all.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #energy, #executive, #fido, #general-motors, #harvard, #harvard-business-school, #intel, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #president, #sanitation, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #taiwan, #tc, #tsai-ing-wen, #tsmc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #volkswagen, #water-treatment

GM, LG Chem studying the feasibility of a second battery cell plant in the U.S.

General Motors is exploring building a second U.S. battery cell manufacturing plant with its joint-venture partner Seoul, South Korea-based LG Chem.

If the plant moves forward, it would be the latest in a series of investments aimed at building out the auto giant’s portfolio of electric vehicles. The company’s joint venture with LG, Ultium Cells LLC, is already at work constructing a $2.3 billion battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio.

The companies hope to have a decision on the factory in the first half of 2021, GM spokesman Dan Flores told TechCrunch. He declined to specify possible locations for the site but Tennessee is high on the list, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal.

GM has set ambitious targets for decarbonizing its operations and pledged steep investments to get there. Through 2025 alone the company said it would bring thirty EV models across its brands to the global market and spend $27 billion on electrification and automated technology—a 35% increase from 2020 spending. By the mid-2030s, GM said its fleet will be all-EV.

“Clearly, with our commitment to an all-electric future, we will need a lot of battery cells,” Flores said.

He declined to comment on the ongoing shortage of battery cells, which has affected EV manufacturers Tesla and Nikola. President Joe Biden issued an executive order at the end of February instructing federal agencies to identify risks in the supply chains for batteries, semiconductors, and other critical items, including where supply chains are dependent on “competitor nations.”

GM CEO Mary Barra said in a virtual investor presentation last week that the battery shortage is one reason the company is investing in its own battery cell manufacturing. She alluded to plans to grow the company’s battery cell manufacturing operations but did not go into specifics.

“There’s more coming than we’ve announced already,” she said.

#automotive, #ceo, #electric-mobility, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #engines, #ev, #executive, #general-motors, #joe-biden, #lg, #lg-chem, #lithium-ion-batteries, #mary-barra, #mobility, #nikola, #ohio, #president, #semiconductors, #seoul, #south-korea, #supply-chains, #tc, #tennessee, #tesla, #the-wall-street-journal, #united-states

Biden admin plans executive order to address chip-shortage woes

An older man in a suit speaks from the Resolute Desk.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden signing a different executive order on January 28, 2021. (credit: Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images)

The White House is launching an effort today to ease the global semiconductor supply crunch affecting a wide array of other industries, but any boost the administration can provide is likely to be on the far side of many more months of shortages.

President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order this afternoon aimed at “securing America’s critical supply chains.” The order will address several challenges in the US supply chain, according to a fact sheet from the White House, with a particular focus on pharmaceuticals, mineral resources, semiconductors, and large-capacity batteries.

The order is a sort of combination of every US politicians’ favorite rallying cry—”more American jobs”—and an acknowledgement that shortages and production challenges in critical supply chains really have had a profound effect on the nation, especially in the past year. It calls for an immediate 100-day review that will “identify near-term steps the administration can take, including with Congress” to identify where the vulnerabilities in these supply chains are and what regulators or legislators can do to increase US manufacturing of these critical components.

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#biden, #biden-administration, #chip-shortage, #chips, #executive-orders, #policy, #semiconductors, #silicon-chips, #white-house

A silicon chip shortage is causing automakers to idle their factories

A silicon chip shortage is causing automakers to idle their factories

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

You may have noticed that it’s difficult to get ahold of new high-end graphics cards and game consoles these days. In large part, that’s due to an ongoing global shortage affecting semiconductor foundries. As it turns out, the problem is even more pronounced in the auto industry. In fact, it’s getting so bad that a number of OEMs, including Ford and General Motors, have had to go as far as idling shifts and even entire factories.

Ford had to stop production in Kentucky in December of 2020, and in January, it ordered a month-long pause at a German factory. Stellantis (the new company formed by a merger between Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot) reduced output at factories in the US, Mexico, and Canada around the same time. As did Audi, which had to idle 10,000 employees in Germany, CEO Markus Duesmann said, telling the Financial Times that the problem involved “a very long chain with different supply levels on the components that we are short.” Subaru’s Gunma factory in Japan has been affected. Production of Toyota’s Texas-produced Tundra has, too.

This week, more hits keep coming. Mazda just announced it might have to cut output by 34,000 units this year due to a lack of chips. Nissan’s truck factory in Mississippi has reduced its hours. And on Wednesday, GM said it will halt production at factories in Kansas, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. In many cases, the automakers are trying to prioritize their more in-demand products, but as some of those closures show, that isn’t always possible.

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#audi, #auto-industry, #bmw, #cars, #chip-shortage, #ford, #foundries, #general-motors, #mazda, #semiconductors, #stellantis, #subaru, #toyota, #volkswagen

The Trump administration will add SMIC, China’s largest chipmaker, to its defense blacklist: report

SMIC, one of largest chip makers in the world, is among several companies that the Department of Defense plans to designate as being owned or controlled by the Chinese military, reports Reuters. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, set to go into effect on January 11, that would bar U.S. investors from buying securities from companies on the defense blacklist.

In a statement to Reuters, SMIC said it continues “to engage constructively and openly with the U.S. government” and that it “has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for military end-users or end-uses.”

The largest semiconductor maker in China, SMIC holds about 4% of the worldwide foundry market, estimates market research firm TrendForce. Its U.S. customers have included Qualcomm, Broadcom and Texas Instruments.

There are currently 31 companies on the defense blacklist. SMIC is one of four new companies that the Department of Defense plans to add, according to Reuters. The others are China Construction Technology, China International Engineering Consulting Corp and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC).

The company delisted from NYSE in May 2019, but it said that the decision was prompted by the limited trading volume and high administrative costs, not the U.S.-China trade war or the U.S. government’s blacklisting of Huawei and other Chinese tech companies.

SMIC has already been impacted by export restrictions that prevent them from purchasing key equipment from American suppliers. At the beginning of October, it told shareholders that export restrictions set by the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security could have “material adverse effects” on its production.

The executive order, and the possible addition of new companies to the defense blacklist, is in-line with the Trump administration’s hard stance against Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, ZTE and ByteDance, that it claims are a potential national security threat through their alleged ties to the Chinese government and military. But the future of a lot of the current administration’s policies after the Joe Biden assumes the presidency on January 20 is uncertain.

TechCrunch has contacted SMIC for comment.

#asia, #china, #semiconductors, #smic, #tc, #u-s-government

SiFive’s new PC is bringing open-source computing closer to reality

One of the most interesting projects to watch these days in tech is RISC-V. The non-profit organization and wider community is building an open-source and standardized instruction set architecture (ISA) that allows chip creators to design their own chips unencumbered by licensing and patents typical of other ecosystems, such as those of Arm.

Building an ISA and the associated tooling is hard work — and expensive, which is one reason why the industry has been practically impervious to the open-source movement that is now a mainstay in software circles. The RISC-V community has spent years developing, cohering, and getting traction for its vision of the future of computing. Along the way, it’s acquired major support, with members as diverse as Google, Oculus, Huawei, IBM, Nvidia (which is in the process of buying Arm), Qualcomm and more joining the organization.

Now, the ecosystem is starting to mature and getting ready for wider adoption outside of hardware laboratories and test data rooms.

SiFive is one of the most high-profile companies spearheading the commercialization of RISC-V technology. It was founded by a number of the inventors and leading researchers of the technology (which was centered around Berkeley), and has also managed to attract big names like Chris Lattner, who led the development of the Swift programming language that today is the main choice for developers in the Apple ecosystem. The company has raised $190 million to date, including most recently a $61 million Series E round. Among its most notable investors is Sutter Hill, which made a massive return earlier this year on Snowflake Computing.

Today at the Linley Conference, a major stop on the … circuit for processor announcements, SiFive launched its PC-focused RISC-V board, dubbed “Unmatched.” The goal of the product is to make it easier for developers to buy PCs or host server farms and enable them to test their code on RISC-V’s architecture. That should make the onramp into the RISC-V universe more inviting for a broader range of engineers.

It’s all part of a revamped go-to-market strategy that SiFive’s new CEO Patrick Little is plowing ahead on. Little joined the company last month from Qualcomm, where he led the company’s expansion into automotive tech, and he has a multi-decade background in the industry. His mandate is to take the technological work that SiFive has developed and get it into the hands of the widest number of users.

“We’re just trying to drive adoption and open up the platform, so that software can be developed at scale,” Little said. He noted that developers have consistently asked for a more mainstream PC board in a standard form factor. “They wanted to plug and play on a PC platform that was familiar to them,” he said.

The HiFive Unmatched PC board hosts the SiFive FU740 SoC, and has a five-core processor that is based on SiFive’s 7-series core, which the company says is the fastest commercially-available core available through RISC-V today. The board is based on the mini-ITX form factor.

In addition to the PC board, the company announced last week at the Linley conference the launch of its SiFive Intelligence VIU7 Series, which is a vector processor designed for AI and graphics workflows and is centered around the RISC-V Vector Extension (RVV) standard ISA.

These announcements are laying the groundwork for more new products targeting the major buckets of computing needs in the industry.

One major new propulsive force for the company is indeed Nvidia’s announcement that it intends to acquire Arm. That news reverberated quickly around the industry as chip builders grapple with a future where the tie-up controls a wide swatch of the AI, graphics and mobile processing markets. More and more companies are looking for alternatives, and RISC-V is one of the few available on the market today.

An open-source ISA means “a company can design around that platform for years or even decades to come without the fear that it would go away,” Little said. “It’s moved from an operational objective to a strategic imperative.”

Little is ambitious for SiFive, saying that “leading is choosing for us, because the opportunity is fantastic right now, and so really it’s just trying to map these assets into the right opportunities.” With the market currents going its way and open-source hardware looking less like a pipe dream, SiFive is well-positioned to take advantage of what might well be one the bigger shifts in processing we have seen in years.

#cloud, #computing, #hardware, #patrick-little, #processors, #risc-v, #semiconductors, #sifive

More chip industry action as Marvell is acquiring Inphi for $10B

It’s been quite a time for chip industry consolidation, and today Marvell joined the acquisition parade when it announced it is acquiring Inphi in a combination of stock and cash valued at approximately $10 billion, according to the company.

Marvell CEO Matt Murphy believes that by adding Inphi, a chip maker that helps connect internal servers in cloud data centers, and then between data centers, using fibre cabling, it will complement Marvell’s copper-based chip portfolio and give it an edge in developing more future-looking use cases where Inphi shines.

“Our acquisition of Inphi will fuel Marvell’s leadership in the cloud and extend our 5G position over the next decade,” Murphy said in a statement.

In the classic buy versus build calculus, this acquisition uses the company’s cash to push it in new directions without having to build all this new technology. “This highly complementary transaction expands Marvell’s addressable market, strengthens customer base and accelerates Marvell’s leadership in hyperscale cloud data centers and 5G wireless infrastructure,” the company said in a statement.

It’s been a busy time for the chip industry as multiple players are combining hoping for a similar kind of lift that Marvell sees with this deal. In fact, today’s announcement comes in the same week AMD announced it was acquiring Xilinx for $35 billion and follows Nvidia acquiring ARM for $40 billion last month. The three deals combined come to a whopping $85 billion.

There appears to be prevailing wisdom in the industry that by combining forces and using the power of the checkbook, these companies can do more together than they can by themselves.

Certainly Marvell and Inphi are suggesting that. As they highlighted, their combined enterprise value will be more than $40 billion with hundreds of millions of dollars in market potential. All of this of course depends on how well these combined entities work together and we won’t know that for some time.

For what it’s worth, the stock market appears unimpressed with the deal with Marvell’s stock down over 7% in early trading, but Inphi stock is being bolstered in a big way by the announcement, up almost 23% this morning so far.

The deal, which has been approved by both companies’ boards, is expected to close by the second half of 2021 subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.

#chips, #enterprise, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #ma, #marvell, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #semiconductors, #tc

Intel agrees to sell its NAND business to SK Hynix for $9 billion

SK Hynix, one of the world’s largest chip makers, announced today it will pay $9 billion for Intel’s flash memory business. Intel said it will use proceeds from the deal to focus on artificial intelligence, 5G and edge computing.

“For Intel, this transaction will allow us to to further prioritize our investments in differentiated technology where we can play a bigger role in the success of our customers and deliver attractive returns to our stockholders,” said Intel chief executive officer Bob Swan in the announcement.

The Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this week that the two companies were nearing an agreement, which will turn SK Hynix into one of the world’s largest NAND memory makers, second only to Samsung Electronics.

The deal with SK Hynix is the latest one Intel has made so it can double down on developing technology for 5G network infrastructure. Last year, Intel sold the majority of its modem business to Apple for about $1 billion, with Swan saying that the time that the deal would allow Intel to “[put] our full effort into 5G where it most closely aligns with the needs of our global customer base.”

Once the deal is approved and closes, Seoul-based SK Hynix will take over Intel’s NAND SSD and NAND component and wafer businesses, and its NAND foundry in Dalian, China. Intel will hold onto its Optane business, which makes SSD memory modules. The companies said regulatory approval is expected by late 2021, and a final closing of all assets, including Intel’s NAND-related intellectual property, will take place in March 2025.

Until the final closing takes places, Intel will continue to manufacture NAND wafers at the Dalian foundry and retain all IP related to the manufacturing and design of its NAND flash wafers.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Dalian facility is Intel’s only major foundry in China, which means selling it to SK Hynix will dramatically reduce its presence there as the United States government puts trade restrictions on Chinese technology.

In the announcement, Intel said it plans to use proceeds from the sale to “advance its long-term growth priorities, including artificial intelligence, 5G networking and the intelligent, autonomous edge.”

During the six-month period ending on June 27, 2020, NAND business represented about $2.8 billion of revenue for its Non-volatile Memory Solutions Group (NSG), and contributed about $600 million to the division’s operating income. According to the Wall Street Journal, this made up the majority of Intel’s total memory sales during that period, which was about $3 billion.

SK Hynix CEO Seok-Hee Lee said the deal will allow the South Korean company to “optimize our business structure, expanding our innovative portfolio in the NAND flash market segment, which will be comparable with what we achieved in DRAM.”

#asia, #enterprise, #flash-memory, #fundings-exits, #intel, #nand, #semiconductors, #sk-hynix, #south-korea, #tc

NUVIA raises $240M from Mithril to make climate-ready enterprise chips

Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days, what with the outer Bay Area on fire, orange skies above San Francisco, and a hurricane season that is bearing down on the East Coast with alacrity (and that’s just the United States in the past two weeks).

A major — and growing — source of those emissions is data centers, the cloud infrastructure that powers most of our devices and experiences. That’s led to some novel ideas, such as Microsoft’s underwater data center Project Natick, which just came back to the surface for testing a bit more than a week ago.

Yet, for all the fun experiments, there is a bit more of an obvious solution: just make the chips more energy efficient.

That’s the thesis of NUVIA, which was founded by three ex-Apple chip designers who led the design of the “A” series chip line for the company’s iPhones and iPads for years. Those chips are wicked fast within a very tight energy envelope, and NUVIA’s premise is essentially what happens when you take those sorts of energy constraints (and the experience of its chip design team) and apply them to the data center.

We did a deep profile of the company last year when it announced its $53 million Series A, so definitely read that to understand the founding story and the company’s mission. Now about one year later, it’s coming back to us with news of a whole bunch of more funding.

NUVIA announced today that it has closed on a $240 million Series B round led by Mithril Capital, with a bunch of others involved listed below.

Since we last chatted with the company, we now have a bit more detail of what it’s working on. It has two products under development, a system-on-chip (SoC) unit dubbed “Orion” and a CPU core dubbed “Phoenix.” The company previewed a bit of Phoenix’s performance last month, although as with most chip companies, it is almost certainly too early to make any long-term predictions about how the technology will settle in with existing and future chips coming to the market.

NUVIA’s view is that chips are limited to about 250-300 watts of power given the cooling and power constraints of most data centers. As more cores become common pre chip, each core is going to have to make do with less power availability while maintaining performance. NUVIA’s tech is trying to solve that problem, lowering total cost of ownership for data center operators while also improving overall energy efficiency.

There’s a lot more work to be done of course, so expect to see more product announcements and previews from the company as it gets its technology further finalized. With $240 million more dollars in the bank though, it certainly has the resources to make some progress.

Shortly after we chatted with the company last year, Apple sued company founder and CEO Gerald Williams III for breach of contract, with the company arguing that its former chip designer was trying to poach employees for his nascent startup. Williams counter-sued earlier this year, and the two parties are now in the discovery phase of their lawsuit, which remains ongoing.

In addition to lead Mithril, the round was done “in partnership with” the founders of semiconductor giant Marvell (Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai), funds managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, and Temasek, plus Atlantic Bridge and Redline Capital along with Series A investors Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Mayfield, Nepenthe LLC, and WRVI Capital.

#apple, #chips, #data-center, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hardware, #nuvia, #semiconductors, #startups

ARM co-founder starts ‘Save Arm’ campaign to keep independence amid $40B Nvidia deal

ARM Holdings, the UK semiconductor company, made history for the second time today, becoming the country’s biggest tech exit when Nvidia announced over the weekend that it would buy it from SoftBank for $40 billion in an all-stock deal. (ARM’s first appearance in the record books? When SoftBank announced in 2016 that it would acquire the company for $32 billion.)

But before you can say advanced reduced instruction set computing machine, the deal has hit a minor hitch. One of ARM’s co-founders has started a campaign to get the UK to interfere in the deal, or else call it off and opt for a public listing backed by the government.

Hermann Hauser, who started the company in 1990 along with a host of others as a spin-out of Acorn Computers, has penned an open letter to the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson in which he says that he is “extremely concerned” about the deal and how it will impact jobs in the country, ARM’s business model, and the future of the country’s economic sovereignty independent of the US and US interests.

Hauser has also created a site to gather public support — savearm.co.uk — and to that end has also started to collect signatures from business figures and others.

He’s calling on the government to intervene, or to at least create legally biding provisions, tied to passing the deal to guarantee jobs, create a way to enforce Nvidia not getting preferential treatment over other licensees, and to secure an exemption from CFIUS regulation “so that UK companies are guaranteed unfettered access to our own microprocessor technology.”

The letter and general wave of backlash that is coming out in the wake of last night’s acquisition news underscores interesting — and, you might argue in the long term, bigger — themes about technology in the UK, or even more generally building technology giants outside of the US or China.

In short, the questions that are being raised are around why ARM can’t try to continue to build itself as an independent company, why it opted to go for a Softbank acquisition in the first place the first time around, and why the UK doesn’t do more to support the building of its own, homegrown tech giants.

Those questions are more high-level. More immediately, Hauser’s position is that by letting the company be acquired by a US entity, any future sales that the company makes will also be subject to US export regulations — a key point since so many of its dealings are with Chinese companies and companies that in turn do business with China, all of whom would need to comply with CFIUS regulations, he notes.

“This puts Britain in the invidious position that the decision about who ARM is allowed to sell to will be made in the White House and not in Downing Street,” he writes. “Sovereignty used to be mainly a geographic issue, but now economic sovereignty is equally important.  Surrendering UK’s most powerful trade weapon to the US is making Britain a US vassal state.” (Bonus points for the Nvidia/invidous pun, Hermann.)

No doubt prepared for critics to slam the deal, Nvidia CEO and co-founder Jensen Huang and Arm CEO Simon Segars held a press conference earlier today in which they both laid out, in many words, a commitment to keeping ARM’s business model and independence intact.

“This will drive innovation for customers of both companies,” said Huang at one point, adding that Nvidia “will maintain ARM’s open licensing model and customer neutrality…We love ARM’s business model. In fact, we intend to expand ARM’s licencing portfolio with access to Nvidia’s technology. Both our ecosystems will be enriched by this combination.”

Hauser’s response? “Do not believe any statements which are not legally binding.”

On the employment side, Hauser’s letter notes that ARM employs thousands of people and its ecosystem of partners stretch across Cambridge (where it is headquartered), Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow, Sheffield and Warwick. “When the headquarters move to the US this will inevitably lead to the loss of jobs and influence in the UK as we have seen with the Cadbury takeover by Kraft,” he writes.

ARM’s business model, meanwhile, has been built on the concept of the company being a “Switzerland” in the semiconductor industry, supplying reference designs to a host of licensees, many of whom might also compete against each other, and who also compete against Nvidia. His belief is that by giving Nvidia control of the company it will inevitably make those business relationships unsustainable.

But back to the biggest issue of all, at least as it is outlined to appeal to the UK government, it is ARM’s position as a company independent of US interests that is of the highest concern.

ARM, he points out, is the only UK technology company with a dominant position in mobile phone, with its microprocessors in a vast array of devices, making up some 95% market share. That helps the company stand distinct from the likes of the “FAANG” group of giant companies Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, which dominate in their own respective areas (ARM does not compete against any of them, nor necessarily work with them all).

“As the American president has weaponised technology dominance in his trade war with China, the UK will become collateral damage unless it has its own trade weapons to bargain with. ARM powers the smartphones of Apple, Samsung, Sony, Huawei and practically every other brand in the world and therefore can exert influence on all of them.”

Hauser’s response is not the first time that a founder has been critical over how ARM’s business has been thrown first to one buyer, and then another.

Back in August, when the rumors of Nvidia’s interest first began to surface in the wake of SoftBank’s disastrous financial results, another co-founder and the ex-president of the company, Tudor Brown, spoke out against SoftBank’s handling of the company, and the inherent problems of having Nvidia buy it as a “solution” to that.

As we wrote at the time of SoftBank’s deal, SoftBank wanted to use the acquisition to spearhead a big move into Internet of Things technology — essentially use ARM’s business model and relationships with hardware makers to secure a new wave of investment in IP around semiconductors for connected devices, rather than doubling down on the areas that have become “hot” in processors like AI and implementations in autonomous systems.

That turned out to be a disastrous move, since IoT has not been nearly as big of a business opportunity as everyone thought it would be — or at least, the IoT business has not developed in anything like the timescales or trajectories people had predicted it would.

Tudor’s take on Nividia is much like Hauser’s. Selling to a company that essentially competes against your company’s customers will make it very tough, if not impossible, to assert independence and assurance that you’re giving everyone equal access to your products.

Of course, you could argue that Nvidia wouldn’t have acquired the company for $40 billion just to run it into the ground. But with that deal in stock, and Nvidia playing the long game, perhaps it wins either way in the end?

We’ve asked Nvidia for a response to the Save Arm initiative and will update as we learn more.

#arm-holdings, #europe, #hardware, #ma, #nvidia, #processors, #semiconductors, #softbank