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Leuven-based Axelera AI brings first products to a potential 30 billion dollar market

20 September 2023

Axelera AI, a Dutch developer of innovative AI systems with a research department in Leuven, is bringing its first products to market. 'We focus on computer vision and in the coming years also on language models.'

Axelera AI is a start-up that raised $50 million in capital in two years from investors including the Leuven investment fund imec.xpand and the federal government (FPIM). The company designs chips and software to bring AI out of the "cloud" and to the "edge. Current AI systems generate large streams of data that are sent and processed in centralized, energy-hungry data centers. With Edge AI, the technology Axelera is developing, that data processing takes place on the chip and in the machine, which is much faster and cheaper.

Axelera's first product, Metis AI, is a chip platform for applications in computer vision, such as sorting machines or cameras that can recognize products or patterns. Axelera AI says it enables AI applications that are much more efficient than traditional chip-based systems from U.S. market leader Nvidia, which are typically used in data centers.

Bram Verhoef, the head of machine learning leading a development team in Leuven, speaks of a difference by a "factor of 10" of computing power per euro invested. 'Our technology was designed from the start for Edge AI, while Nvidia's chips were originally intended for graphics applications. Moreover, we also make the software that are perfectly matched to the chips,' it sounds.

Axelera AI announced its first commercial deliveries of Metis AI at the AI Hardware & Edge AI Summit in Santa Clara, USA. The customers are companies integrating the technology into smart devices, such as industrial robots or drones. It is a milestone for the company, which is entering a market that estimates could be worth some $30 billion by 2030. 'We focus first on computer vision, a very mature market with high demand. We also expect the NLP market - AI applications based on language models such as GPT - to move to the edge in the next 3-5 years, but we are only in the early stages there,' says Verhoef.

The Leuven department is one of the company's three research groups, which develops both hardware (processing unit and memory) and algorithms. Verhoef and several other employees have backgrounds at the Leuven chip research institute Imec. Axelera also has departments in Zurich, Milan, Florence and Bristol. 'We are in the places where knowledge and people can be found,' says Verhoef. 'Of our 130 employees, some 50 are PhDs, and that number continues to grow.'

Like many chip companies, Axelera operates only as a designer rather than a manufacturer. That job is outsourced to Taiwanese giant TSMC. Should that supply chain be interrupted, say by an attack by China, we can also turn to Intel, the company says. "But we don't expect anything like that to happen in the next few years.

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