ARM has R&D interest in neural network cores

March 01, 2016 //By Peter Clarke
James McNiven
Intellectual property licensor ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England) has a research interest in machine learning and neural networks but is not yet prepared to say whether it can be turned into commercial business.

ARM is the global leader in the licensing and supply of hardware in the form of IP. The company had about a 46 percent share of the global market with $1.2 billion worth in business in 2014, according to market research company Gartner.

ARM's 25 years of existence have seen it expand from the supply of 32bit CPU cores with the addition of GPUs, video processors and crypto-acceleration processors. Expanding ARM's processor domain is something the company is always looking at, James McNiven, general manager of ARM's CPU group, told eeNews Europe during the Embedded World exhibition in Nuremberg.

Top 10 semiconductor design IP vendors, ranked by 2014 revenue. Source: Gartner Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

To enter the GPU core market ARM acquired Falanx Microsystems AS (Trondheim, Norway) in 2006 and ditched a graphics partnership with Imagination Technologies Group plc. In 2015 ARM acquired Sansa Security Inc. (Kfar Netter, Israel) and Offspark BV (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) to beef