Chinese internet and ecommerce giant, Alibaba has announced that the company is currently developing a chip called Ali-NPU—for “neural processing unit”—designed specifically to handle AI tasks like image and video analysis.
It joins other major internet companies already working on similar custom designs, including Alphabet, Facebook and Apple.
This trend could potentially threaten the traditional chipmakers like Nvidia or Intel.
The firm has said the chip's performance and architecture will enable a boost of 10X in performance when compared to other mainstream AI chips, and also the manufacturing cost and power consumption would also only be half of that.
The project is led by Alibaba's R&D arm, "Discovery, Adventure, Momentum, and Outlook" DAMO Academy. The firm also announced that it has acquired a Hangzhou-based CPU designer called C-SKY.
The chips will be part of Alibaba’s ambitious plan to deliver AI through cloud computing and IoT devices. It’s already using AI to improve online shopping and process city data. Using in-house chips will help it do things faster and more cheaply.
Alibaba believes that the Ali-NPU chip performance to price ratio will be up to 40 times that of current products on the market and will have a special architecture.
In a post on Medium, according to Jiao Yang, 'Alibaba’s Ali-NPU is developed independently based on the large number of AI algorithm models accumulated by Alibaba A.I. Labs and other teams. It can achieve AI model algorithmic computing of the maximum efficiency at minimum cost according to the microstructure and instruction set based on AI algorithm models.'