UPDATED 18:01 EDT / MARCH 15 2018

sombanova-founders EMERGING TECH

AI chip startup SambaNova raises $56M from GV and others

SambaNova Systems, a startup that makes chips specifically for artificial intelligence, exited stealth mode with a bang today after it raised $56 million.

The Series A funding round was led by Walden International and GV, Alphabet Inc.’s venture capital arm, and it also included participation from Redline Capital and Atlantic Bridge Ventures.

Machine learning tasks require processors that can quickly handle a large number of simple computations. That is why graphics processing units became a popular choice for AI projects, but GPUs were originally designed to power 3-D applications such as video games, not AI.

Founded last year in Palo Alto, SambaNova makes hardware and software designed to meet machine learning’s unique needs. The startup said today that its compute platform will reimagine the infrastructure used to power AI in the enterprise, and the funding will allow the company to expand its team and develop its product further.

“SambaNova’s innovations in machine learning algorithms and software-defined hardware will dramatically improve the performance and capability of intelligent applications,” SambaNova co-founder and Chief Technologist Kunle Olukotun (pictured, left, with co-founder Rodrigo Liang) said in a statement. “The flexibility of the SambaNova technology will enable us to build a unified platform providing tremendous benefits for business intelligence, machine learning and data analytics.”

Dave Munichiello, general partner at GV, noted that the market for dedicated AI hardware continues to grow rapidly. “This team uniquely understands how critical adaptability and flexibility are for ever-evolving artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches,” he said. “Other platforms have been designed for AI and machine learning techniques that exist today. SambaNova’s software-defined infrastructure anticipates and supports a rapidly evolving ecosystem. We firmly believe that over time this computing approach will lead the industry in distributed machine learning and data analytics infrastructure.”

SambaNova is one of several companies that have started developing dedicated AI hardware. Nvidia Corp., after discovering that its GPUs were already a hit with AI developers, launched a line of machine learning hardware, and its rival AMD Corp. later followed suit. Some companies, such as Arm Holdings plc, have also started making chips to power AI in mobile devices. And in recent years, chip giant Intel Corp. has been buying chip and software companies such as Movidius Ltd. and Nervana Systems focused on specialized machine learning tasks.

Photo: SambaNova

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