About Axelera AI
- Founders: Fabrizio del Maffeo (Co-founder and CEO)
- Founded in: 2021
- Employees: 75
- Money collected: 10 million
- Ultimate goal: To spread artificial intelligence across the globe and make the world a safer, greener place.
Why are we writing about this topic:
Artificial intelligence has the potential to change the world, but current hardware imposes limitations on this technology. Now there is a solution to this problem, which means we will be dealing with AI a lot more in our daily lives.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the future, but before we can use this technology in our daily lives, we need faster, cheaper and more efficient hardware. Start-up Axelera AI has developed a test chip to solve this problem: Thetis Core. A computer chip with a fast memory that will make it possible to use AI like never before. The startup is just over a year old, but has grown rapidly and plans to announce the first version of the chip in the last quarter of 2022. Last week, the young company received a Gerard & Anton Award for their revolutionary chip. In this episode of start-up-of-the-day, co-founder and CEO Fabrizio del Maffeo talks about his innovative product.
What is Thetis Chip?
“To understand Thetis, I want to start with the AI problem. Artificial intelligence and neural networks in particular are very different from other algorithms. If you look into this network, you will see that a large part of the operations are vector-matrix multiplications: you multiply a vector, which is a column of numbers, by a table of numbers. This represents 70 to 90 percent of all the calculations the hardware has to do. The rest are more advanced calculations. Our technology, a memory computer chip, can speed up this process for to make the process more efficient. Our chip immediately does all calculations in one cycle. Normally a computer can do 16 or 32 calculations per cycle. Our test chip can do 260,000 calculations in one cycle. That’s because we do the calculation in memory ourselves. We just changes the memory to do this simple calculation of multiplication and addition, which speeds up the process.”
Who can benefit from this chip?
“Our chip delivers high performance and ease of use at a fraction of the cost of what is currently on the market. We want to create a technology that is accessible to everyone. Primarily for device designers. They need high performance to scale their applications . For example, it could be medical devices. After that, I would say almost everyone will benefit. We want to enable thousands of startups and established companies to scale up and apply performance in AI with a powerful tool. For for example, you can put real intelligence in drones to monitor crops or even monitor fires. Or you can shop and pay without stopping at the checkout. The possibilities are endless.”
When did you start the business?
“We started on July 9, 2021. We got our investments and from then on we scaled very quickly. The idea started way back in 2017. I was an engineer for computer companies for almost 20 years, with different roles from development to management. I started looking at the trend of bringing AI from the cloud to devices. I saw that there was a growing demand and interest in a solution to speed up this process, so I started to see an opportunity there. I then started talking to people and two years later the company was founded. Now we are going to do the product announcement this year. And we want to deliver the first version of the product to selected customers in the first half of next year.”
What problems did you have to overcome to make this chip?
“We bring a new technology to the market and you discover something new every day. We are also doing this with a completely new team. So you have to build new technology and build a new team. A virtual team of people to stick together at a time when we had no money. I needed a hundred million to break even, and in Europe such projects are considered too ambitious. Many investors told me that I was in the wrong place, that I should take a flight to the US and try it there. But we didn’t give up and eventually we found investors. I am still here. We now employ 75 employees. Things have improved.”
How difficult was it to get funding?
“It was extremely difficult, and it’s still extremely difficult to convince people to give you millions when you don’t have a product. I don’t want to minimize the work of other startups, but if you develop software, which most startups do, you can use it as a proof of concept. To prove our concept, we needed ten million to start with. We have a theoretical simulation, but investors are always skeptical. We are also pitching for a market that is growing but not quite there yet. Everyone knows this market is going to be big, but it’s not yet. So investors think they have to wait. And we are competing with big companies, which is another problem.”
What makes your product better than what is already on the market?
“It is the unique performance per area and power consumption. You can have high performance for a fraction of the power consumption. AI uses a lot of power, so it’s good to have a technology that’s fundamentally greener than others. Our chip is also cheaper than the rest. That way you can democratize artificial intelligence and make it accessible to everyone.”
What is the ultimate goal?
“For us, it’s spreading artificial intelligence to create a safer, greener world. We’re convinced that AI can be used for good, and that if we can spread AI, we can improve everyone’s quality of life. You can save time because you can focus on things that create more value. And to achieve this goal, we need to democratize artificial intelligence. Ultimately, we will have given our technology to millions of companies and engineers, so they can use their creativity to harness the power of our chip to create new solutions. AI could really change the whole world.”