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Alibaba Group now enters the semiconductor industry by launching its new subsidiary named ‘Ping-Tou-Ge’ that will develop computer chips specifically designed for artificial intelligence. The company made this announcement last week at its Computing Conference in Hangzhou.

Why the name, ‘Ping-Tou-Ge’?

“Ping-Tou-Ge” is a Mandarin nickname for the Honey Badger, an animal native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Alibaba chief technology officer Jeff Zhang says, “Many people know that the honey badger is a legendary animal: it’s not afraid of anything and has skillful hunting techniques and great intelligence”.

He further added, “Alibaba’s semiconductor company is new; we’re just starting out. And so we hope to learn from the spirit [of the honey badger]. A chip is small [like the honey badger], and we hope that such a small thing will produce great power.”

Ping-Tou-Ge is one of Alibaba’s efforts to improve China’s semiconductor industry

The main reason for the creation of ‘Ping-Tou-Ge’ was the US ban on Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which brought a realization as to how much China’s semiconductor industry depends heavily on imported chipsets.

Alibaba has constantly been increasing its footprint in the chip industry. DAMO Academy, which was established in 2017, focuses on areas such as machine intelligence and data computing.

Alibaba had also acquired Chinese chipmaker Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems in April to enhance its own chip production capacity. C-SKY Microsystems is a designer of a domestically developed embedded chipset.

Zhang Jianfeng, head of Alibaba’s DAMO Academy said in a statement that the Hangzhou-based company will produce its first neural network chip in the second half of next year with an internally developed technology platform and a synergized ecosystem.

Ping-Tou-Ge will combine the powers of both DAMO’s chip business and C-Sky Microsystems. It will operate independently in the development of its embedded chip series CK902 and its neural network chip Ali-NPU.

The Ali-NPU chip is designed for AI inferencing in the field of image processing, machine learning, etc. Some of its features include:

  • It is expected to be around 40 times more cost-effective than conventional chips
  • perform 10 times better than mainstream CPU and GPU architecture AI chips in the current market
  • cut down power and manufacturing costs to half

Pingtouge will also focus on customized AI chips and embedded processors to support Alibaba’s developing cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) business. These chips could be used in various industries such as vehicles, home appliances, and manufacturing.

To know more about Ping-Tou-Ge in detail, visit MIT Technology Review blog.

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