Tech company BrainChip (ASX: BRN) has announced a double combo of new developments relating to its Akida neuromorphic processor including a new order from US space agency NASA and signing an intellectual property (IP) license agreement with Japanese semiconductor giant Renesas Electronics.
BrainChip confirmed that NASA had ordered its Akida Early Access Evaluation Kit to be used at the NASA/Ames Research Center (ARC) at Moffett Field in California.
The BrainChip early access program is only available to a “select group of customers”, evaluation boards and dedicated support.
According to the terms of the deal, NASA has made an undisclosed payment intended to “offset the company’s expenses to support partner needs” and intends to use the early access program to test Akida’s capacity for use in space.
The kit will enable NASA technicians to evaluate BrainChip’s Akida technology and its use in programs utilising a neuromorphic processor that can meet spaceflight requirements. Given that Akida is a “complete neural processor”, it does not require an external CPU, memory or Deep Learning Accelerator (DLA) to function.
As a result of its streamlined design, focused on reducing component parts and improving energy efficiency, the Akida processor could potentially make the grade and be used in spaceflights.
What is Akida?
Currently, BrainChip is developing what it calls a “ground-breaking neuromorphic processor” that brings artificial intelligence (AI) to the edge in a way that is beyond the capabilities of other products”.
The company claims its Akida chip is high performance, small, ultra-low power and enables a wide array of edge capabilities that include on-chip training, learning and inference.
Akida is designed to provide a complete ultra-low power and fast AI Edge Network for vision, audio, olfactory and smart transducer applications.
BrainChip said it is confident the Akida neuromorphic processor will be well-suited for spaceflight and aerospace applications, given its capacity for “incremental learning”. The feature allows new classifiers to be added to the network without retraining it in its entirety.
The benefit in spaceflight and aerospace applications may be significant because real-time local incremental learning allows continuous operation when new discoveries or circumstances occur.
“We are both excited and proud that NASA has procured Akida as part of our Early Access Program,” said Louis DiNardo, chief executive of BrainChip.
“The recognition that neuromorphic computing may play an important role in spaceflight applications is an important milestone for our industry. We hope that the potential benefits from the Akida neuromorphic processor for use in spaceflight and aerospace applications may provide a valuable contribution to further NASA’s primary mission to benefit humanity,” he said.
IP license agreement
In addition to seeing NASA joining its early access program, BrainChip also signed an IP license agreement with Renesas Electronics America, a subsidiary of Renesas Electronics Corp, in what Mr DiNardo described as “market validation of our technology”.
The conglomerate is a tier-one semiconductor manufacturer specialising in microcontroller and automotive SoC products.
The unconditional IP agreement means BrainChip will deliver its Akida 1.0 neural network IP via a single-use, royalty-bearing, worldwide IP design license, thereby allowing Renesas to use Akida in its system-on-chip products.
BrainChip has been tasked with providing implementation support services — at an agreed fee to cover costs — aimed at facilitating Renesas’ adoption and commercialisation of the Akida-licensed product during the first year of the license agreement.
Moreover, the agreement includes provisions for the payment of ongoing royalties based on the volume of units sold, commencing at a “certain agreed volume threshold and the net sale price of the customer’s [Renesas’s] products”.
BrainChip has also agreed to provide software maintenance services for which it will apply an additional fee if Renesas elects to continue to use these services after the first two years of the agreement.
“This is an exciting and significant milestone in obtaining the company’s first IP licensing agreement,” said Mr DiNardo.
“Licensing Akida IP also provides us with an opportunity for recurring revenue over the lifetime of our customer’s SoC product. We are equipped to help additional customers integrate Akida technology into their products, which benefit from low power and real-time performance, as well as extend capabilities to provide AI solutions to IoT devices at the edge without the need for cloud connectivity,” he added.