Qualcomm bolsters on-device AI efforts with Scyfer acquisition

Qualcomm has acquired Dutch start-up Scyfer to bolster one of its most important growth strategies – bringing artificial intelligence (AI) to the device, and putting that device at the heart of services driven by machine learning.

The chip giant has been very active in this area, creating technologies and developer platforms for its Snapdragon system-on-chip that allow AI-related applications, such as machine vision, to be processed mainly on the device itself rather than in the cloud. That supports applications like surveillance cameras, which require low latency and local computing. Of course, that in turn enhances the role of the devices which Qualcomm’s silicon powers, rather than the cloud servers where Intel is king.

With Scyfer, a spin-off from the University of Amsterdam, Qualcomm gains a deep learning platform that has been used in several vertical markets such as manufacturing, healthcare and finance. Scyfer is led by founder Max Welling, who is also research chair in machine learning at the university and will be retained by Qualcomm.

Qualcomm reiterated its belief that carrying out most of the AI processing on the device can improve reliability, privacy protection and bandwidth efficiency, compared to solutions which have to transmit data to the cloud for processing.

Last month, it made available its Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine software development kit, providing programmers in target industries like mobile, automotive, healthcare, security and imaging with tools to create on-device neural network-driven applications.

“We started fundamental research a decade ago, and our current products now support many AI use cases from computer vision and natural language processing to malware detection on a variety of devices — such as smartphones and cars — and we are researching broader topics, such as AI for wireless connectivity, power management and photography,” said Matt Grob, EVP of technology at Qualcomm.

In 2015, Qualcomm and the University of Amsterdam established a public-private partnership called the QUVA-lab, which explores machine learning image and video applications.

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. The Scyfer team will continue to be based in Amsterdam.

Last month, Qualcomm Ventures participated in a third round of funding for one of its start-ups, San Diego-based Brain, which raised $114m in a round led by the SoftBank Vision Fund, the massive fund which has identified AI as one of its core areas of interest.
Brain has developed AI and self-driving technology to enable robots to perceive their environment, learn to control their motion, and navigate using visual landmarks while avoiding obstacles.

This activity is close to the heart of Qualcomm’s executive chairman and former CEO, Paul Jacobs, who holds a PhD in robotics.