SAN JOSE, Calif. – Four years ago Andreas Olofsson came to the Embedded Systems Conference as an engineer from Analog Devices Inc. and spotted an opportunity for a startup. Two weeks ago he got the first working chip based on his idea, and at this week's ESC as chief executive of Adapteva he is seeking a partner to bring it to a future smartphone.
Olofsson's 2007 epiphany became his 2011 many-core Epiphany chip, an accelerator for next-generation DSP tasks such as speech recognition and imaging processing. The current implementation packs 16 custom floating-point cores in a 65nm chip that deliver 50 GFLOPS consuming less than a watt.
"I was here going to presentations, and it clicked that something was missing," said Olofsson in an interview at ESC.
In ten years at ADI, he had worked both on large teams that spent $100 million creating high-end DSPs that failed to get adequate market traction and virtually alone on simple microcontroller designs. He had also tracked middle-of-the-road DSPs based on SIMD and VLIW architectures that could not scale beyond eight-way devices.
Multicore mania was in the air that year at ESC. It struck the ADI engineer that he could develop a custom floating point core and hook many of them up in an architecture that would attack the high end DSP space without running up a $100 million development tab.
Olofsson cashed out his retirement account and started work. Eighteen months ago he had a prototype that looked good enough to win him funding from DSP board maker BittWare Inc.
He hired two engineers and turned the crank on the design. "Boy, it's been tough in the last year and a half bringing that prototype to the level of a product," he said.
But he did, and this week BittWare is expected to announce its first of several systems customers, initially focusing on imaging processing for radar. The next step is even bigger: Olofsson hopes to snag a tier-one silicon company willing to take his architecture to market for next-generation mobile systems.
Epiphany can scale to more than a thousand cores opening up use in base stations and high-performance computers significantly smaller than today's systems. "But there's not as much impetus to go for revolutionary performance there as in drones and smartphones where you don't have a product unless you are energy efficient," he said.