Imagination teams for RISC-V development platform for edge AI chips

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By Nick Flaherty

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud business of Chinese giant Alibaba, has launched a development platform for edge AI chips based on the RISC-V open standard instruction set and IP from Imagination Technolgies in the UK.

The Wujian 600 platform was custom-built by Alibaba’s chip designer T-Head and is tailored specifically for developing edge SoCs that mix AI accelerators and CPUs in embedded applications from home robots and medical imaging to video conferencing. It also includes an optimized software stack to help speed up the roll-out of products. 

T-Head licensed the IMG B-Series GPU and PowerVR Series3NX NNA cores for the Wujian SoC Platform Alliance created in 2019 and used in the Xuantie C910 system on chip (SoC).

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This allows developers to run desktop-level applications, such as FireFox browser and LibreOffice built on OpenAnolis, an open-source Linux-based operating system launched by Alibaba in 2020, on RISC-V designs. Collaboration with T-head’s ecosystem partners, such as OpenAnolis, will also lead to further optimization of the software stacks on Wujian 600.

Earlier this year, Alibaba Cloud announced it has made further progress in porting basic Android functions onto the RISC-V instruction-set architecture. This makes it feasible to use RISC-V based Android devices in applications ranging from multimedia to signal processing, device interconnection, and AI.

The platform was used for the development and prototyping of TH1520, a high performance embedded SoC developed by T-head. This combined Alibaba’s quad-core Xuantie C910 CPU running up to 2.5GHz with Imagination’s BXM-4-64 GPU and PowerVR AX3386 AI accelerator running at  4 TOPs, along with 64bit 4266MT DDR4 memory alongside a wide range of standard I/O interfaces. It also adopts the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) security certification scheme that meets the GlobalPlatform standard.

This TH1520 is already being used in Alibaba’s ecosystem. 

“We’re delighted to collaborate with Imagination. The combination of its GPU and NNA IP provides an ideal solution for our low-power and cost-efficient AIoT products. Getting the right performance-power trade-off allows us to unlock more possibilities in applications, and Imagination is a strong partner in this aspect,” said Jianyi Meng, Vice President of Alibaba T-Head Semiconductor.

James Liu, VP & China GM, Imagination Technologies, says; “This is a great opportunity for
Imagination and T-Head to drive AIoT innovation. Our heterogeneous GPU and NNA computing
platforms offer industry-leading power-performance-area (PPA) and flexibility to enable a variety of
applications in this space. The scalability of our IP will make it possible for T-Head to broaden its AIoT
solution in the future.”

“The Wujian 600 development platform enables powerful edge SoCs with enhanced frequency and increased storage for robust edge-AI computing. The developer ecosystem supporting Xuantie on Linux and Android further strengthens the RISC-V software ecosystem,” said Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International. “This is a great example of collaboration across the thriving RISC-V community.”

“We hope to share our development capability of RISC-V based high-performance chips with the launch of Wujian 600,” said Jianyi Meng, Vice President of T-Head. “Customers can leverage the platform to develop their high performance SoCs in a fast and efficient way. By making the platform accessible to global developers, we hope to contribute to the RISC-V community, enabling more customised RISC-V based SoCs tailored for different applications.” 

“Together with our partners in the growing RISC-V software ecosystem, we will continue to enrich the platform in order to supply global developers with the latest technologies and toolkits, bringing the RISC-V based SoCs to broader use in various sectors,” said Meng. 

The platform is available for licensing to global developers to reduce development costs and shortening the design cycle of chips, making the mass production of RISC-V based high-performance SoCs a reality.

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