Kneron, which is developing AI chips to power self-driving cars, among other autonomous machines, today announced that it raised $49 million in an extension to its Series B round from investors including Foxconn, Alltek, Horizon Ventures, Liteon Technology Corp., Adata and PalPilot.
Kneron’s CEO, Albert Liu, says that the new tranche, which brings Kneron’s total raised to $190 million, will be put toward bolstering Kneron’s go-to-market efforts in the automotive industry and expanding the size of its team, with an emphasis on the R&D division.
“The need for chips in the automotive market is robust, and the rapid growth of AI in generative applications is driving the need for AI chips,” Liu told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Kneron is strategically positioned with unique advantages in these areas.”
As the demand for AI explodes, so too is the demand for chips designed to execute AI workloads. Gartner forecasts that it’ll be a $53.4 billion revenue opportunity for the semiconductor industry, a 20.9% uptick from 2022.
Unsurprisingly, investors are chasing after the opportunity. VC funding for chip startups doubled from 2017 to 2022, according to PitchBook data.
That’s obviously to the benefit of companies like Kneron.
Kneron was co-founded in 2015 by Liu and Frank Chang. Prior to starting the company, Liu spent time in R&D and management positions at Qualcomm and Samsung. Chang was an assistant director at Rockwell before being elected to the nonprofit National Academy of Engineering, which operates engineering, education and research engineering programs.
With Kneron, Liu and Chang set out to develop hardware for AI applications — specifically ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits), or chips custom-tailored for a particular use. Today, Kneron supplies low-powered, reconfigurable AI chips that are designed to interface with existing systems, such as the sensors on driverless vehicles, and that can run algorithms ranging from face and body detection models to models to generate text.
Kneron has a number of competitors in the space, including NeuReality, which is building similar AI inferencing accelerator technology. There’s also Hailo, Mythic and Flex Logix, to name other upstarts. And in terms of incumbents, Google’s competing for AI inferencing dominance with its tensor processing units while Amazon’s betting on Inferentia, not to mention the elephant in the room, Nvidia’s GPU hardware.
But Kneron’s done well for itself. Revenue is in the order of “double digit millions,” Liu claims, with a customer base that spans ~30 brands including Garmin, Naver and Quanta. Through Otus, an imaging tech provider Kneron acquired in April, Kneron has partnerships with automotive customer like JVC Kenwood.
In the short term, Liu says that Kneron will focus on “strategic directions” in AI, like autonomous cars, that avoid direction competition with “existing dominant players.” Down the line, it’ll mount a bigger challenge to incumbents — potentially through collaborations with third-party vendors. Or at least, that’s the plan.
“Kneron is poised to become a significant player in this industry,” Liu said. “Kneron’s lightweight reconfigurable solutions resolve three major problems faced by AI use cases — latency, security and cost — thereby enabling AI everywhere.”