Arm helps neural-network start-up secure $16m funding
March 21, 2019
Israeli start-up Hailo used Arm’s DesignStart Pro programme to secure $16m in funding to help edge devices such as drones, cars and smart home appliances think for themselves.
The company has been able to design, prototype and secure funding for an embedded system-on-chip (SoC) capable of traditional and neural network processing at the edge based on Arm Cortex processors.
DesignStart Pro is a programme to help companies access proven Arm IP for commercial custom SoC and ASIC design. With a simplified contract, success-based royalties and design support, it can help engineers design confidently and accelerate time to market.
Hailo used DesignStart Pro to gain access quickly to the IP necessary to create a prototype device, pairing a high-efficiency Cortex-M3 CPU with its proprietary hardware IP. Creating a viable proof of concept using Arm IP with no upfront licence fee helped Hailo secure $16m in funding.
Founded by Orr Danon, the company combines traditional compute processes with intuitive machine learning capability.
“Like the two hemispheres of the human brain, when it comes to solving a real-life problem, it is the objective, logical side working together with the subjective, intuitive side that results in a decision,” said Danon.
Hailo’s designs use tried-and-tested processor technology as a foundation for its proprietary neural network hardware. In selecting a foundation, however, a low barrier to entry was paramount for the start-up.
With no upfront licence fees and a success-based, royalty-only model, the DesignStart Pro programme provided a development environment in which Hailo could quickly and reliably prototype its SoC design.
“DesignStart Pro has proven invaluable to us,” said Danon. “It tackles the pain points typically experienced by early stage start-ups when funding is extremely tight. At this point in our journey we had to spend our money wisely, taking the custom approach in areas we wanted to really differentiate in, while using readily available, high-quality IP and tools everywhere else.”
To build its prototype, Hailo selected the Cortex-M3 processor, designed to enable high-performance, low-cost platforms for use in a broad range of devices.
“We chose the Arm Cortex-M3 for a number of reasons,” Danon said. “It’s an incredibly capable processor in its class, with low power requirements. By properly allocating what is running where and joining forces between it and our own IP, we managed to create a highly capable yet also extremely power-efficient prototype.”
The processor also opens the door for Hailo to augment its design with further Arm-based IP, such as sensors and memory processors. Most importantly, the Arm processor acts as the security guard for the whole device: secure boot ensures that firmware cannot be tampered with, and all further processing occurs within the CPU’s trusted execution environment.
Hailo’s multi-disciplinary team is made up of industry experts with system-oriented backgrounds, committed to developing end-to-end products. An important part of this, said Danon, was co-designing the software and hardware.
“Creating robust hardware requires an equally robust software ecosystem with a tried-and-tested software toolchain,” Danon said. “We’re not interested in forcing the industry to use non-standard toolsets; our toolchain combines the standard Arm tools seamlessly with our own software development kit. Arm’s extensive software ecosystem, combined with the variety of support and resources that exist, made it the obvious choice for us to ensure successful adoption in the market.
“Prototyping using Arm DesignStart Pro enabled us to design and demonstrate a comprehensive proof of concept to potential investors, helping to gather more than $16m in funding from stakeholders.”
This funding, which comes from Israeli crowdfunding and a number of angel investors, let Hailo build on its prototype to create a finished product that demonstrates the technology.
While the Cortex-M3 is more than sufficient for Hailo’s current use, Danon believed the continuity of the Arm ecosystem provided a springboard into more advanced Arm processors for higher performance applications.
Danon said Hailo’s key market was the automotive industry, specifically its move towards autonomous driving technology.
“Vehicle autonomy requires a lot of compute from an edge perspective; currently, an autonomous vehicle needs to be a tiny data centre on wheels,” said Danon. “Our solution can accommodate high-level requirements for autonomous driving, and for that we may need a more powerful Arm solution such as dual or quad-core Cortex-A or even Cortex-R CPUs. Conversely, some could incorporate an even lower-power Arm Cortex-M0 processor. Using Arm, we have complete flexibility.”