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Startup Esperanto Technologies Raises $58 Million

Esperanto Technologies has raised another $58 million in venture capital to cover the mounting cost of developing chips for machine learning, pushing the company’s funding to $63 million since it was founded in 2014. The company said that it would use its financial war chest to roll out chips that contain thousands of cores using 7-nanometer technology and are based on the RISC-V architecture.

The company is attempting to assemble chips that support the highest number of operation per watt using the RISC-V architecture. Esperanto plans to combine its higher performance ET Maxion cores with thousands of lower power ET Minion cores, which will each be equipped with accelerators. The silicon will also be capable of processing tensors, one of the most critical types of data in machine learning.

The funding raises the stakes for Esperanto, which is battling for position in the machine learning market. Venture capital firms, including Sequoia Capital and Benchmark Capital, along with technology companies like Microsoft and Amazon, are pouring billions of dollars into startups targeting the space. Silicon Valley is starting to reach the conclusion that traditional chips are insufficient for processing vision, voice and other data.

That could threaten the established order in the semiconductor market. Trying not to mishandle the opportunity, Intel wagered $350 million on its acquisition of Nervana Systems. It cost Nvidia around $3 billion to build the Volta architecture used in its latest graphics chips, which are the current gold standard for machine learning. Xilinx invested more than $1 billion into its new Versal architecture for handling inference jobs.

Before its latest announcement, Esperanto had raised $5 million in venture capital. But the company has hired more than a hundred employees, including processor architects, software developers and systems engineers. Western Digital invested in the Silicon Valley-based company last year after saying it would shift its consumption of processors—around two billion cores per year—to those based on RISC-V.

The company was founded by Dave Ditzel, who currently holds the chief executive role. He also founded and was chief executive of Transmeta, which designed microprocessors that used a unique code morphing software to run x86 instructions. He also served as the chief architect for Intel’s Hybrid Parallel Computing unit and chief technology officer for Sun Microsystems’ SPARC business.

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