ARM acquires Apical to add eyes to IoT

Apical's silicon modules convert raw image sensor data into machine-readable models of the world

ARM has acquired Apical, a U.K. designer of embedded computer vision technology, and plans to incorporate that technology into future ARM microprocessor and system-on-chip designs, it said Wednesday.

The move will open up new opportunities for designers of autonomous vehicles and security systems, among other connected things, according to ARM CEO Simon Segars. Computer vision is in its early stages, and Apical is at the forefront of embedding such technology, he said.

Apical's technologies is already used in 1.5 billion smartphones, according to ARM, although many of those phones may be using nothing more sophisticated than a display brightness control Apical calls Assertive Display. That technology also turned up in Samsung Electronics' new laptop, the ATIV Book 9.

Assertive Camera is another of Apical's developments: It's a range of software packages and silicon-based image signal processors for reducing image noise, managing color and shooting high dynamic range images.

ARM makes its money by designing chips that others manufacture, or licensing its chip modules for others to incorporate in their own designs.

In that context, Apical's Spirit silicon building blocks are perhaps where ARM sees the most opportunity for growth. The Spirit silicon blocks process raw sensor data or video into a machine-readable representation of an image in an energy-efficient way, so ARM and its partners can use them to add computer vision capabilities to future low-power devices.

Putting image analysis and interpretation capabilities in hardware could accelerate and simplify the design of a whole host of products, including self-driving cars and security systems.

ARM paid US$350 million for Apical, closing the deal Tuesday, it said.

Adding such building blocks to its collection is important for ARM if it wants to avoid becoming a supplier of commodity processor designs. In addition to its Cortex microprocessor range, it also licenses Mali graphics cores, and plans to add Apical's Spirit blocks to its offering.

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