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Microprocessor Macro Stock

Startup Raises $45 Million to Spot Faults in Chips Before They Cause Failures

Sept. 10, 2020
proteanTecs sells tools to identify areas for improvement in new chips and anticipate potential failures in the field. The company said it serves "some of the largest" electronics vendors in the data center, cloud, and communications segments.

proteanTecs, which sells tools to identify areas for improvement in chips and anticipate potential failures in the field, said that it has raised $45 million in funding to meet demand from customers. 

The startup pinpoints problem areas in chips by placing semiconductor cores called agents in the floor plan of the processor. The cores, which can be embedded without any penalty in die area or cost, serve as sensors, gathering data on the performance, power, heat, and other characteristics before uploading it all to the cloud. Once there, the data processed by the company's artificial intelligence and data analytics tools to spot potential areas for improvement in the chip design.

The company said these cores can also be used to anticipate failures in electronic systems, from airplanes to automobiles, by continuously eyeing the chips inside throughout their life cycle.

The company is led by co-founders Shai Cohen, who serves as chief executive; Evelyn Landman, its chief technology officer; and Roni Ashuri, who leads the company’s growing global operations. They were also among the founders of Mellanox Technologies, the networking hardware firm purchased by Nvidia for $6.9 billion, where they all worked for more than 20 years. The startup's board includes David Perlmutter, who was previously in charge of Intel's processor development.

proteanTecs said its latest funding round, led by the corporate venture division of Koch Industries, would be used to expand its sales and customer-support teams and global operations as well as develop its products. The investment brings its total funding to over $95 million. Other investors include Intel Capital and WVRI Capital, the venture firm founded by Lip-Bu Tan, CEO of Cadence Design Systems, one of the world's largest vendors of software used to create chip blueprints.

The startup said major players in the semiconductor industry are adding its artificial intelligence and data analytics tools to locate problems in chip designs and speed up the production process. According to proteanTecs, its tools can curb the cost of chip development and reduce the time it takes to bring computer chips to market. The company is headquartered in Haifa, Israel.

proteanTecs said its technology can also be used to test and troubleshoot the chip while it is in mass production. Manufacturing chips is one of the most complicated processes in the world, with polished plates of silicon traveling from one tool to another for hundreds to thousands of steps. Any glitch on the production line can result in slight imperfections that may impact the performance. The variations can sometimes cause a complete failure of a die down the road.

Today, tens of billions of transistors can be crammed on a square of silicon. But the inaccurate placement of a single atom could be all it takes to cause a malfunction of the device in the field.

According to proteanTecs, its artificial intelligence and data analytics tools can identify defects and other variations, supplying insights its customers can use to improve the performance and reliability of a chip design before bringing it to market. By uncovering critical issues, its tools can also reduce the time it takes to carry out quality-assurance tests while on the production line.

Another focus is on improving the chip's operating temperature. Managing heat in electronics has become one of the primary challenges to improving performance. As transistors scale to smaller dimensions, more heat is concentrated within the same footprint, sapping energy efficiency and hurting chip performance. At the same time, different parts of the chip can dissipate more power than others, resulting in what are known as "hotspots" around the chip where temperatures soar. 

proteanTecs said its technology is able to locate areas of the chip that need to run cooler, and customers can take advantage of these insights to improve the chip design and disperse heat.

According to the company, chips containing its semiconductors cores can report on their health and performance while out in the field. Moreover, it said the technology can anticipate areas that are on the verge of a failure due to defects or environmental conditions. On-chip monitoring gives  companies a red flag about potential faults in the chip before they become system-level failures.

proteanTecs said it serves some of the largest electronics vendors in the data center, cloud, artificial intelligence, and communications segments. The startup said its semiconductor cores are used in chips that have made it to mass production based on process nodes smaller than 10-nanometers. It plans to use the funding to further develop its products and lure more customers. 

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