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UBC unveils energy efficient AI chip

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First to leverage GlobalFoundries 12nm FinFET process - available via CMC Microsystems

Among the more than 1,600 customer chips that CMC Microsystems has manufactured over the past five years, the Canadian research group has proudly introduced its most recent using one of the world’s most advanced semiconductor fabrication technologies, the 12LP 12nm FinFET process offered by its partner, GlobalFoundries (GF).

A team comprised of Ph.D. student Avilash Mukherjee, and associate professors, Dr. Sudip Shekhar and Dr. Mieszko Lis, at the department of electrical and computer engineering, University of British Columbia worked on the tapeout. Their research has applications in machine learning (ML) and Deep Neural Networks (DNNs), which are promising solutions to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) in our daily lives. Workloads are ubiquitous in datacenters and mobile devices. Training of these workloads, however, faces severe challenges due to increasing model sizes and corresponding energy and latency costs. This is one of the biggest limitations facing the ML community today.

12LP process is new

To enable training of DNN models with low latency and energy, the team fabricated a DNN accelerator which leverages sparsity to skip computations and reduce runtime and energy by up to a factor of 3x on ResNet-18 and MobileNet-v2 over their corresponding dense versions, without compromising any accuracy.  The 12LP process is a relatively recent addition to CMC’s portfolio and is an important step for high-technology design, and advanced manufacturing for researchers and entrepreneurs across Canada and around the world. This offering and partnership with GF keeps CMC customers on the leading edge of advanced fabrication technology.

AI artificial intelligence technology CPU central processor unit chipset. Source: Adobe

“Researchers need access to state-of-the-art tools and expertise to push the boundaries of their work and develop innovative solutions and products. Through CMC’s partnership with GlobalFoundries, we provide simplified access to world class technologies to support innovation in advanced technology design and manufacturing,” says CMC president and CEO Gordon Harling.


From design, to prototyping and production

“High-value training is a crucial part of what we provide for our clients” adds Dr. Gayathri Singh, microelectronics technical team lead at CMC. “We have the experience and expertise to help our clients succeed at every step of their journey, from design, to prototyping and production.”

This activity comes as a result of the successful customer engagements initiated through the January 2020 announcement of a CMC channel partnership agreement signed with GF, the world’s leading specialty foundry, to provide access to GF’s advanced and specialized FinFET, RF SOI, FDX, SiGe, and Silicon Photonics platforms for researchers at more than 60 Canadian universities and colleges, in addition to academic and commercial users globally.

Under this landmark agreement, as a GlobalSolutioins Ecosystem partner, CMC customers have access to the GF GlobalShuttle Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) program and dedicated prototype and production runs in GF technologies at a fraction of what these would typically cost. This is perfectly aligned with CMC’s core mission of lowering barriers to technology adoption to give Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs access to the world’s most advanced platforms for innovation.



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