With the advent of the robot era, will there be a new Intel rise?

“The washing machine at home knows what clothes you are washing and automatically adopts the most suitable washing solution. It will recommend the most suitable washing products for you. It may even tell you that these clothes are not suitable for machine washing. It is recommended to call O2O laundry service”. This is one of the scenes of intelligent life in the future. When we mentioned this scene, Yu Kai is no longer the head of IDL of Baidu Deep Learning Institute. He recently resigned from Baidu and is forming Horizon RoboTIcs Inc. (Horizon Horizon Robotics Co., Ltd.), which is dedicated to defining the "brain" chips of robots, and wants to illustrate the complex intelligent scenarios of hardware products.


At present, Horizon RoboTIcs has just completed seed round financing, and the financing scale has not been disclosed. The investors include Morningside Capital, Gaochun Capital, Sequoia Capital, Jinshajiang Venture Capital, Linear Capital and Reality Fund. This investor lineup is a luxury, behind which is the thinking of Horizon RoboTIcs and his investors: From the industry trend, will there be new Intel in the robot era?

Robot brain

All of ToC's electronic hardware products, in Yu Kai's view, will eventually become "generalized robots": there are five senses, you can perceive the environment; there are feedback, you can interact with humans; there is a brain, you can make judgments; there are limbs, Can do motion control. Even electric lights will eventually become "robots"; another example is self-driving cars.

But now, these products are not yet qualified "robots." For example, a truly intelligent drone does not need to be manually controlled or operated. It is told “Where are you flying?”, you can perceive the complex environment, analyze where is the road, where there is a door, where to go, plan the path, complete Mission, automatic return. For example, your refrigerator should know what food you put in at that time, when the shelf life is, remind you at the right time, and maybe give you advice on fitness and shopping.

At present, these hardware products are not perceived, have no brain, and cannot make decision judgments. One reason is that "the general-purpose processor chip industry like X86 and ARM is still difficult to implement intelligent information processing operations from perceptual understanding to decision control."

Many people are trying to solve this problem. One of the solutions is the cloud, which is implemented on the basis of traditional chips through the network and with the computing resources of the cloud. However, this program is not perfect. Many products and scenarios, such as moving cars and in-flight drones, must be handled on the fly, and any delay or instability can be dangerous. This is not a big deal. It is not efficient to pass the original data to the cloud. The data center meets the general computing requirements. Even if the requirements have been customized, it is not suitable or economical. Coupled with privacy issues, local language processing is in demand.

The idea of ​​Horizon RoboTIcs is to implement specialized AI algorithm logic on the chip. Simply put, all they have to do is place a variety of complex artificial intelligence algorithms, such as deep neural networks, on the chip. Yu Kai called it "the brain of the robot."

Not a CPU or GPU, but an NPU

When it comes to "brain" chips, the first reaction is why not a general-purpose processor like a CPU. What Yu Kai wants is a processing chip specially designed for artificial intelligence tasks. He calls it NPU (Neural Processing Unit).

The CPU is a general purpose processor that meets the widest range of general purpose computing needs. Yu Kai explained: "In the past, due to Moore's Law, the ever-increasing general-purpose computing power allowed the CPU to eat the computational demands caused by the specific tasks that are constantly emerging, but now Moore's Law is becoming more and more difficult to sustain. In view of this, special computing tasks always transition from a pure software solution based on general-purpose processors to a hardware-hardware-based solution based on dedicated hardware. The graphics processor GPU is an example of this, which is used to do animation rendering. A special computation task with high complexity."

Yu Kai will classify and abstract the common computing needs of intelligent processing for different categories of Internet of Things and robots, define several NPU categories, and write the entire closed loop of smart perception, cognitive understanding, and decision control into the chip.

Compared to cognition, from perception to control is a bit like the wisdom of a kitten and puppy. But even this step is already very difficult. It is reported that Yu Kai team will develop Reinforcement Learning based on deep neural network to realize perceptual wisdom. Later cognitive wisdom is based on this, rising to the acquisition, representation, reasoning and decision making of symbolic semantics.

Many people are optimistic about the application of FPGA chips in the field of IoT. This kind of field programmable gate array can be reprogrammed according to different scenarios after the chip is shipped. At this time, it will run faster than Intel Xeon. A conventional microprocessor. However, FPGA chips are expensive and difficult to mass-produce, and it is difficult to popularize them in the future. Yu Kai plans to introduce a future cost that can be controlled in a few dollars of smart processing chips. But in the early stage, there is no way to make a wafer that is universal in all things. After all, each category and every scene is different.

In fact, the chip makers are not enough at the wafer level. Take Intel as an example. It does a CPU, but in essence it does a complete solution, which is defined as a PC. This is what Horizon Robotics has to do, define a wafer category, develop a complete set of Turn Key solutions, give big partners, promote to consumer-grade products, and eventually become a brand similar to "Intel Inside" - Yu Kai The project will build a user brand called "On the Horizon."

"On the Horizon" is essentially B2B2C. Bulk shipments are the business logic of all wafer vendors. Find a big B-end, with a lot of C behind it, define a product together, you can refactor the industry standard, or become a standard yourself.

Horizon Robotics has selected a category and the product is expected to be available by the end of this year. "The first product we chose was very flat, but it was very useful." As for what product, it is not convenient to disclose.

From scientists to entrepreneurs

However, such a business model is not enough to break some people's doubts about this team - CEO Yu Kai has no commercial experience. Compared with business, Yu Kai is more adept at technology, and previous work is also partial technology and research.

Yu Kai does not shy away from this question. "This is a fact. I really don't have any commercial experience. Great companies like Microsoft, Google, Intel, Qualcomm are built by scientists and engineers with no commercial experience. The key is the founder. We must strengthen our strengths and be aware of our shortcomings, with a constant learning attitude, and we are willing to continue to attract talented talents to complement the team. Moreover, behind us are a group of China's most successful investment institutions. Investors have great business vision and practical experience, they are my mentor. Open mindset, team, resources, and even capital, are likely to make up for the lack of business experience."

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