'Despite Chip Shortage, Chip Innovation Is Booming'
Saturday May 8, 2021. 08:34 PM , from Slashdot
The New York Times reports on surprising silver linings of the global chip shortage:
Even as a chip shortage is causing trouble for all sorts of industries, the semiconductor field is entering a surprising new era of creativity, from industry giants to innovative start-ups seeing a spike in funding from venture capitalists that traditionally avoided chip makers. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung Electronics, for example, have managed the increasingly difficult feat of packing more transistors on each slice of silicon. IBM on Thursday announced another leap in miniaturization, a sign of continued U.S. prowess in the technology race. Perhaps most striking, what was a trickle of new chip companies is now approaching a flood.
Equity investors for years viewed semiconductor companies as too costly to set up, but in 2020 plowed more than $12 billion into 407 chip-related companies, according to CB Insights. Though a tiny fraction of all venture capital investments, that was more than double what the industry received in 2019 and eight times the total for 2016. Synopsys, the biggest supplier of software that engineers use to design chip, is tracking more than 200 start-ups designing chips for artificial intelligence, the ultrahot technology powering everything from smart speakers to self-driving cars. Cerebras, a start-up that sells massive artificial-intelligence processors that span an entire silicon wafer, for example, has attracted more than $475 million. Groq, a start-up whose chief executive previously helped design an artificial-intelligence chip for Google, has raised $367 million.
'It's a bloody miracle,' said Jim Keller, a veteran chip designer whose resume includes stints at Apple, Tesla and Intel and who now works at the A.I. chip start-up Tenstorrent. 'Ten years ago you couldn't do a hardware start-up....'
More companies are concluding that software running on standard Intel-style microprocessors is not the best solution for all problems. For that reason, companies like Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have long designed specialty chips for products such as networking gear. Giants like Apple, Amazon and Google more recently have gotten into the act. Google's YouTube unit recently disclosed its first internally developed chip to speed video encoding.
And Volkswagen even said last week that it would develop its own processor to manage autonomous driving.
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