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Creating Sustainable AI: An Interview with Blumind’s Niraj Mathur

Kathryn Ross

October 12, 2021

Blumind is bringing machine-learning inferencing to the Far Edge, placing it on devices and sensors in all environments. Future applications in Edge AI such as IoT, automotive, Smart Home and Smart City will be crippled by the power and latency constraints of current digital technologies. Blumind’s breakthrough all-analog, in-memory inferencing engine slashes power consumption, latency, and silicon area by orders of magnitude versus digital approaches.

Tell us about what Blumind seeks to accomplish.

Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in recent years to improve our lives. Entire industries are being transformed by replacing and enhancing legacy processes with neural network-based algorithms. From natural language processing to recommendation engines, machine learning has demonstrated remarkable capability to solve a variety of problems. 

 

“At Blumind, we believe that to democratize AI, and for it to proliferate further, we must move AI inferencing – the application of knowledge to a trained neural network – closer to the devices and sensors that interact with our world.”

 

However, due to the limitations of today’s semiconductor chips, machine learning functions are limited to large, heavily-controlled data centres or, at best, devices connected to wired power or with large batteries like laptops. This has significant impacts for latency (the time it takes for data to be transferred between nodes), power consumption, and data security. At Blumind, we believe that to democratize AI, and for it to proliferate further, we must move AI inferencing – the application of knowledge to a trained neural network – closer to the devices and sensors that interact with our world, thereby creating autonomy at the Edge.

To accomplish this goal, Blumind has developed a proprietary semiconductor technology that delivers unparalleled latency, power and cost for AI inference. We will initially target smart sensors and smart devices, but our architecture can be deployed anywhere AI processing is done. We like to call it – AI for Everyone, Everywhere.

 

“Minimizing AI’s ecological footprint is vital for sustainable growth.”

 

There are huge environmental benefits to Blumind’s ability to dramatically lower power consumption. Can you contextualize the scope of this? 

Minimizing AI’s ecological footprint is vital for sustainable growth. It’s a multi-faceted problem that needs holistic optimization of the entire technology stack to make meaningful improvements. For instance, it’s not simply the electricity it takes to run a graphics processing unit (GPU) for AI training, but the impact of manufacturing that GPU; creating, transporting, and storing the data; and building the infrastructure that hosts the GPU. Although data centres have become more power-efficient over time, there are other factors such as building infrastructure, cooling systems, and wastewater that greatly increase its CO2 footprint. 

At the device and sensor level, power consumption, production, and disposal have a huge environmental impact. As the number of calculations to run AI algorithms increases exponentially, we must continuously optimize the associated hardware and software for power and size.

Blumind’s technology achieves both these objectives by treating AI as a signal processing problem rather than shoehorning it into traditional architectures. Interestingly, this new approach is how our brain functions. It’s a fundamental simplification of the software and hardware stack resulting in a power reduction of 100-1000x, all in a tiny silicon footprint. Additionally, as data movement between sensors and computers is eliminated, latency of the signal path is greatly reduced.

 

You have recently had an incredibly successful round of seed funding. What can you tell us about that experience, and the VC’s involved?

It was very important for our investors to be tightly-aligned with our vision and be knowledgeable about our business. We were fortunate to win the support of leading venture capital firms from two of the largest AI hubs in the world, Real Ventures in Canada and ACME Capital in California’s Silicon Valley. Both these partners bring deep insights into AI technology, customer engagement and the competitive landscape. 

It was especially gratifying for me to see a Canadian VC step up as the lead investor in our oversubscribed funding round. Early-stage deep tech ventures have typically faced barriers to finding Canadian funding but firms like Real Ventures are helping to bridge this gap. 

 

“AI is the single largest opportunity for the expansion of the Canadian economy.”

 

What impact do you foresee Blumind having on the Canadian landscape of AI? What opportunities are here for Canadian AI companies to capitalize on?

Not many folks outside our industry know this but modern machine learning has Canadian roots. Foundational research in machine learning in the 1980s through to 2000s was performed right here in Ontario. Since then, we’ve built a vibrant AI ecosystem in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor which has led to numerous AI startups. 

Blumind is proud to be a part of this wave of Canadian innovation by demolishing power, latency and cost barriers with our silicon. We will enable new market segments like natural movement processing for robotics which will transform how we live in the future. I hope many other Canadians will leverage Blumind’s technology to create products we haven’t even imagined yet. AI is the single largest opportunity for the expansion of the Canadian economy. We are still in the early innings, so we have an amazing opportunity to lead the world in this space.

 

Tell us about your relationship to ventureLAB, the Hardware Catalyst Initiative and the Lab.

ventureLAB’s Hardware Catalyst Initiative is one of the key enablers of Blumind’s commercialization efforts and provided the impetus to establish the company last year. Blumind was selected in the first cohort of the Hardware Catalyst Initiative after a competitive selection process. As the Hardware Catalyst Initiative program has evolved over the last year, the Blumind team has benefited significantly from its partner ecosystem.

ventureLAB’s support and partner programs are customized for the bespoke needs of the companies they work with. Some of the key benefits Blumind derives from the program are access to EDA software, semiconductor foundry access and IT infrastructure, all complemented by veteran advisors from the industry. Soon, we expect to make use of the well-equipped prototyping and testing lab as well.

 

“Never lose sight of your target market and customer base.”

 


You’ve recently been giving back to the hardware community by acting as an Advisor for ventureLAB. What is your favourite part of Advisory? What is one crucial lesson every startup company should adopt? 

Being part of the advisory board has been very rewarding for me. It’s amazing to see both new and battle-hardened entrepreneurs create innovative businesses and to share my experiences with them. I also get to work with my extraordinary peers on the board and contribute to the Hardware Catalyst Initiative direction. 

Founders face incredible challenges, and the odds are stacked against them. They’re constantly juggling high priority tasks like engineering, IP, fund-raising, recruiting etc. but one item to never lose sight of is your target market and customer base. Pre-product hardware and silicon companies with long development cycles frequently fall into this trap, so it’s one to look out for.

 

You’ve had a really successful and varied 20-year career in the semiconductor space. This year, you made the switch to focus on Blumind. How did that come about and what made you want to dedicate yourself to this project?

At this point in my life, I wanted to work on game-changing technology with a world-class team and to contribute to the Canadian semiconductor industry. Blumind’s vision and technology was developed over the last 2 years and this year we received strong validation of our ideas with customer and investor commitments. It was the right time for me to dedicate my energy to this project as it perfectly aligned with my personal objectives.

 

For further information contact Niraj at blumind.ai or info@blumind.ai.

 

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About the Hardware Catalyst Initiative

ventureLAB’s Hardware Catalyst Initiative is Canada’s only lab and incubator for founders building hardware and semiconductor-focused products, enabling the creation of transformative technologies that will power our products of tomorrow — including healthcare technology, consumer electronics, telecommunications, smart energy, connected transportation, and more. The Hardware Catalyst helps tech companies accelerate their time to market in a sector that normally incurs lengthy entry and scale times, enabling Canadian hardware and semiconductor companies to grow and scale locally, and compete globally.

 

About ventureLAB

ventureLAB is a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Located at the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor in York Region, ventureLAB is part of one of the biggest and most diverse tech communities in Canada. Our initiatives focused on raising capital, talent retention, commercializing technology and IP, and customer acquisition have enabled thousands of companies to create over 4,000 jobs and raise more than $200 million in investment capital. At ventureLAB, we grow globally competitive tech titans that build-to-scale in Canada, for global markets. 

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