Chip-Unicorn from China

Cambricon Wants to Free China from AI Dependence

07. Mai 2018, 10:51 Uhr   |  Heinz Arnold

Cambricon Wants to Free China from AI Dependence
© Hisilicon

The Kirin 970, designed by Huawei subsidiary Hisilicon in 2017, contains Cambricon's Neural Processing Unit.

With the AI chips from Cambricon, China wants to become independent of foreign manufacturers. Cambricon has now introduced the first AI chip.

The China Academy of Science presented the first Chinese artificial intelligence IC (AI-IC) chip from Cambricon Technology. 

The Chinese government's goal is to build companies that develop and manufacture their own AI processors and become independent of foreign manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Nvidea in this field. By 2030, an industry with a turnover of 150 billion dollars around AI is to be established in China.


The start-up Cambricon is expected to make a decisive contribution and is already regarded as the first Chinese "Chip-Unicorn" with a valuation of over 1 billion dollars.

The new MLU100 works on the basis of a neural network and will be used in image and speech recognition. It is also capable of learning and making forecasts. Cambricon is a Chinese start-up company backed by Alibaba, among others. At the end of 2017, the start-up company had raised $100 million from investors led by SDIC Chuangye Investment Management, a subsidiary of the Chinese State Development and Investment Corp.

Back then, Chen Tianshi, CEO of Cambricon, had courageously formulated his goal of achieving a 30 percent share of the high-performance AI chip market in China in three years. Tianshi is a professor at the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Science and launched the deep learning chip Cambricon-1A last year. The Kirin 970 chip in Huawei's Mate 10 also contains AI-IP in the form of a Cambricon Neural Processing Unit (NPU). 

At IFA 2017 the Huawei chip subsidiary HiSilcon presented the Kirin 970. The NPU exceeds the performance of the corresponding unit on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845, according to Linley Group analysts.


According to Chen Tianshi, Cambricon intends to offer IP for use in AI chips that work in devices such as smartphones, robots, drones, and autonomous cars. The company develops its own chips for the use of high-end devices in the cloud. Servers of the Chinese Sugon Information Industry already use Cambricon's AI technology.

The prospects are bright: While sales in the field of deep learning chipsets in the AI environment had still been at 500 million dollars in 2016, according to the market research company Tractica it is expected to explode to 12.2 billion dollars by 2025.

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