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Qualcomm-backed firm releases processor as AI chip race heats up

(Reuters) - Kneron Inc, a semiconductor startup backed by venture capital arms of Qualcomm Inc and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, on Thursday announced a new chip aimed at handling artificial intelligence functions on battery-powered devices.

The San Diego, California-based company said the KL720 chip can perform tasks such as image or speech recognition.

Many battery-powered devices, for example, are capable of recognizing a “wake word” for speech commands but then must connect to the internet for full natural language processing. Kneron, pronounced KNEE-RON, said its new chip can hold a dictionary worth of words on the device itself.

Kneron is among a number of companies large and small rushing to handle such tasks on smaller devices such as drones, smart speakers and doorbells. Performing image or speech recognition without connecting to a cloud data center can present fewer privacy concerns and make devices work better when wireless data access is sparse.

Irvine, California-based Syntiant, one of Kneron’s rivals in energy-efficient artificial intelligent chips, said earlier this month that it has shipped 1 million chips and raised $35 million in a funding round from investors including the venture capital arms of Microsoft Corp and Applied Materials Inc, bringing its total raised to $65 million.

Kneron has raised $70 million to date and said its new chip will be available to device makers for testing in the coming weeks.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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