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Denso leads $65 million funding round in autonomous car developer ThinCI

Denso says it led the $65 million Series C funding round in ThinCI in order to “make autonomous cars a reality”.

Denso, the main supplier to Toyota, says the investment speeds development of semiconductor devices with deep learning capabilities required for next-generation autonomous and electric vehicles.

Denso, which is a $50 billion company and one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers of technology and components, says it is continuing to search for new ways to support the development of future mobility solutions that will “revolutionize how society moves”.

Denso subsidiary NSITEXE, a developer of key semiconductor components enabling automated driving, today announced its investment in ThinCI, an AI hardware startup developing computing platforms.

ThinCI’s programmable computing architecture can accelerate deep learning, AI and other algorithms relevant to the automotive industry and will provide somewhere around five to 10 times the computing power and performance offered by the next best solution.

The successful close of ThinCI’s $65 million series C funding round was led by Denso and Temasek.

Other investors include GGV Capital, Mirai Creation Fund – backed by Toyota and other limited partners, and Daimler.

Denso was also the lead investor in ThinCI’s last funding round in 2016.

Tony Cannestra, denso’s director of corporate ventures, says: “ThinCI has the capabilities to help us usher in the next era of transportation.

“The company’s technology provides the computing power to make autonomous driving and advanced electric vehicles the industry norm.

“The move to Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy in the automotive industry will require huge amounts of flexible computing power.

“It’s not feasible for car owners to have autonomous vehicles with server racks in their trunks, so there is a definite need to get that computing power out of the trunk and into a set of chips.”

As automotive electronics become increasingly sophisticated, the number of semiconductor devices used in vehicles has increased significantly.

When automated driving and electrified power sources become the norm, high-performance, yet low-power semiconductor devices will be required for self-driving cars to operate effectively.

These vehicles will need to constantly monitor their surroundings, rapidly process enormous amounts of information and make split-second driving decisions – all of which are made possible by semiconductors being able to properly sense road environments and communicate with one another.

In a bid to achieve practical use of semiconductor devices necessary for automated driving technologies, Denso established NSITEXE in 2017 to design and develop a next-generation, high-performance semiconductor devices to advance autonomous driving solutions.

One of NSITEXE’s current focuses is its Data Flow Processor, or DFP, which is a brand-new type of processor that enhances the functionality of central processing units and graphic processing units, meaning they can rapidly perform multiple complex calculations at once.

Moreover, a DFP is capable of instantaneously optimizing its calculating areas according to the amount and content of information, which reduces its power consumption and heat generation. Since 2016, Denso and ThinCI have worked together to commercialize the DFP and enhance its development.

Yukihide Niimi, president and CEO, NSITEXE, says: “Our Data Flow Processors allow autonomous vehicles to make quick-fire decisions out of complicated and fast-evolving data sets.

“This takes highly targeted computing and processing power, which is why adding ThinCI’s deep learning and vision processing capabilities help ensure our DFPs operate effectively and efficiently.”

ThinCI’s CEO, Dinakar Munagala, says: “We are thrilled and honored by the financial commitment from such major investment funds and automotive and industrial giants.

“The quality of investors coming together to invest in ThinCI validates our vision of industries adopting AI by leveraging our hardware and accompanying software stack.

“The interest from our automotive investors demonstrate their confidence that we can build on our early access partnerships with select automotive players and that our silicon will deliver the performance required to meet all five levels of autonomous driving.

“The expansion of our investor set to include industrial firms outside the automotive sector validates our assertion that ThinCI’s technology can accelerate AI adoption across a wide range of non-automotive applications, such as smart cities, datacenters, and surveillance.

“We firmly believe that ThinCI technology and products will substantially complement their portfolio companies in these diverse areas.”