Probability chip start-up bought by Analog Devices

Lyric Semiconductor, which develops a novel chip architecture with hardware-based probability computation, has been acquired by analog and digital signal-processing specialist ADI

Lyric Semiconductor, the designer of a probability chip architecture for error correction and general-purpose computing, has been purchased by high-performance signal-processing specialist Analog Devices.

Lyric Semiconductor chip

Lyric Semiconductor, the designer of a probability chip architecture for error correction, has been purchased by Analog Devices. Photo credit: Lyric Semiconductor

Norwood, Massachusetts-based Analog Devices Inc (ADI) announced the move on Monday. Boston-based Lyric Semiconductor came out of stealth mode in August with a chip architecture it said could revolutionise the computation of probability-based sums, such as those used in web search, bid analysis or genome sequencing.

"Lyric Semiconductor has developed an innovative set of techniques that have the potential to achieve an order of magnitude improvement in power efficiency in mixed-signal processing, and enable additional signal processing functionality in a broad set of applications," ADI said in a statement.

The logic of the chip uses a standard 180nm or 65nm CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) fabbing process.

The acquisition was completed on Thursday, ADI said. Financial terms were not disclosed. Lyric Semiconductor's co-founders, ex-MIT student Ben Vigoda and chip industry veteran Dave Reynolds, are now ADI employees.

"ADI and Lyric Semiconductor are extremely well aligned from a strategic perspective," Vigoda said in a statement. "We are excited about the commitment ADI is making to our team and technology and look forward to leveraging ADI's leadership and strengths to further innovate in the signal-processing domain."

ADI makes a broad range of products, including data converters, amplifiers, laser drivers and a swathe of digital signals processors.

We are excited about the commitment ADI is making to our team and technology and look forward to leveraging ADI's leadership and strengths to further innovate.

– Ben Vigoda, Lyric Semiconductor

The company plans initially to use Lyric Semiconductor's novel technology in communications infrastructure, such as for signal conditioning and preparation in mobile base stations, according to EE Times. Other potential areas for development include products for communications infrastructure, healthcare and gesture control.

"Analog Devices is pretty solid in high-quality analogue, though they seem to have backed away from the digital signal processing and microcontrollers/processors space that they were into five to 15 years ago," Tom Starnes, an analyst at Objective Analysis, told ZDNet UK.

"What might make some sense [with the Lyric Semiconductor] acquisition is Analog Devices continuing to pursue cellular and communications technologies that often use exotic algorithms for extracting hard data out of messy real-world signals and beefing up performance in the process," he added.

Flash error-correction chip

When Lyric Semiconductor first came out of stealth mode, it said it had invented "a new kind of logic gate" which could accept inputs and calculate outputs between zero and one, rather than the typical zero and one integers of standard binary.

According to the company's plans, the first product to make use of the technology was to be an onboard error corrector for flash memory devices. The company believed it would consume one-thirtieth of the power and be one-twelfth the size of other error-correction chips on the market. In August, Lyric Semiconductor won the Best of Show award for the 2010 Flash Memory Summit's category of Most Innovative Flash Memory Technology.

ADI told ZDNet UK it is "evaluating all the potential applications of Lyric's technology, including the error correction chip for flash memory." 

After the error-correction chip, the company hoped to begin testing a general probability-processing chip, dubbed the GP5, in 2013.

Lyric Semiconductor will continue to work on the GP5 processor as it is part of a separate contract with the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (Darpa), ADI said. Before the acquisition, the company received over $20m (£13m) in government funding from US agencies, including Darpa.


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