Intel acquires Irish chip firm Movidius to drive machine-vision revolution

6 Sep 2016

Movidius CEO, Remi El-Ouazzane, and Intel’s Josh Walden discuss what’s possible in the drone lab at Intel’s Santa Clara headquarters

Intel has revealed it is acquiring Movidius, the Irish machine-vision chip maker whose technology is powering AI in cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) and drone applications by companies like Google and China’s DJI.

Intel said it plans to use the Movidius acquisition to position the chip giant to provide computer vision and deep-learning solutions from the device to the cloud.

In an article earlier this year, we predicted how the Movidius chip will be the Pentium of the machine age.

The terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

‘We recognise that specific system on a chip (SoC) attributes will be paramount to giving human-like sight to the 50bn connected devices that are projected by 2020’

“We’re entering an era where devices must be smart and connected,” explained Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Technology Group.

“When a device is capable of understanding and responding to its environment, entirely new and unprecedented solutions present themselves.”

Next step in computing will be machines that think and see for themselves


How Intel sees the near future of machines with the ability to see and think for themselves

Walden said that Movidius’ technology will put Intel at the forefront of this new wave of computing.

Movidius, he said, will fit in with Intel’s RealSense vision and strategy.

‘Computer vision will trigger a Cambrian explosion of compute, with Intel at the forefront of this new wave of computing, enabled by RealSense in conjunction with Movidius and our full suite of perceptual computing technologies’

“Simply put, computer vision enables machines to visually process and understand their surroundings. Cameras serve as the ‘eyes’ of the device, the central processing unit is the ‘brain’, and a vision processor is the ‘visual cortex’. Upon integration, computer vision enables navigation and mapping, collision avoidance, tracking, object recognition, inspection analytics and more – capabilities that are extremely compelling in emerging markets.”

The Movidius story


Movidius founders David Moloney and Sean Mitchell

Dublin-headquartered Movidius was established 10 years ago by David Moloney and Sean Mitchell to bring deep-learning capabilities and machine intelligence to devices ranging from smartphones to today’s drones and VR headsets.

Earlier this year, the company struck a lucrative deal with Google to ship its MA2450 chip in upcoming personal devices, including Google’s latest VR headset technology.

The key to the deal was Movidius’ ability to make devices like smartphones contextually aware – in effect making phones, robots and drones capable of seeing and understanding their environment.

What followed was a number of key deals and breakthroughs, including the launch of the world’s first autonomous drone for Chinese drone maker DJI, the DJI Phantom 4 in March.

In June, the company scooped a major deal with Chinese electronics giant Lenovo to power its future range of VR devices.

Movidius recently raised €38m in a move that will enable it to generate 100 new jobs in Dublin.

The company now has offices in Silicon Valley, Ireland, Romania and China.

According to Walden, a major revolution is underway and Intel aims to be at the forefront of it.

“We recognise that specific system on a chip (SoC) attributes will be paramount to giving human-like sight to the 50bn connected devices that are projected by 2020.”

He said that, with the pending acquisition of Movidius, Intel gains low-power, high-performance SoC platforms to accelerate computer vision applications.

It also gives Intel algorithms tuned for deep learning, depth processing, navigation and mapping, as well as natural interactions and broad expertise in embedded computer vision and machine intelligence.

“We see massive potential for Movidius to accelerate our initiatives in new and emerging technologies,” Walden said.

“The ability to track, navigate, map and recognise both scenes and objects using Movidius’ low-power and high-performance SoCs opens up opportunities in areas where heat, battery life and form factors are key. Specifically, we will look to deploy the technology across our efforts in augmented, virtual and merged reality, drones, robotics, digital security cameras and beyond.

“Computer vision will trigger a Cambrian eexplosion of compute, with Intel at the forefront of this new wave of computing, enabled by RealSense in conjunction with Movidius and our full suite of perceptual computing technologies.”

The arrival of the distributed computing age

“From a first meeting with promoter Sean Mitchell, to its initial investment in 2008, we knew we had a winner with the talented and ambitious founders of Movidius,” said Tom Shinkwin, partner at Enterprise Equity, the first Irish institutional investor in Movidius.

“Managing risk with early stage investing is what Enterprise Equity does best. Augmented by world class leadership, Movidius has grown successfully over many rounds of funding to become a world leading vision processing company enabling a new generation of intelligent devices.”

Atlantic Bridge, an investor in Movidius, also responded to news of the acquisition.

“It is difficult to believe now, but back in 2013 when Atlantic Bridge led the $16m A-round investment in Movidius, many analysts and industry peers did not believe that a new microprocessor company could emerge as a leader in an intensely competitive and mature industry,” said Atlantic Bridge Ventures in a company blog.

“We were more optimistic, recognising early on the potential disruption the Movidius’ vision processing unit (VPU) technology could bring,” it added.

“Computer vision was identified as one of the first real commercial opportunities but the fundamental game-changing technology that Movidius had developed enabled deep neural networks and machine-learning applications of all kinds to be performed in real time on battery-powered devices.

“The core platform that Movidius had developed enabled for the first time highly-efficient machine intelligence systems to be moved to the edge of the network, improving latency for real-time applications, reducing bandwidth requirements while minimising battery power consumption on the device. The age of distributed intelligence systems had arrived.”

This story has since been updated to include comments from some of the early investors in Movidius, Enterprise Equity and Atlantic Bridge

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years