Amazon has been designing its own chips for a few years, ever since acquiring Annapurna Labs in 2016, but it is readying a new push thanks to a new acquisition and the success of the Echo.
The Information reported Monday that Amazon wants to design a chip optimized for artificial intelligence tasks that would live inside future versions of its Echo home assistant. The company already has a fair amount of in-house chip design talent, thanks to the acquisition of Annapurna Labs in 2015 and Blink late last year, a deal Reuters reported was worth $90 million on Monday.
The new Echo chips would allow Amazon to handle a greater number of Alexa queries on the device itself, rather than having to travel back to Amazon Web Services in order to process those requests. This is another signal of the rise of edge computing, in which connected device makers look to install more processing power on their devices in order to get around the latency inherent in cloud computing.
Such a move could also lead to portable Echo devices, if some of the technology behind Blink’s cameras is used. Reuters reported that Blink cameras are able to run for up to two years on two AA batteries, and while an Echo is more complicated than a camera, custom-designed low-power chips could open up a new category of Echo devices that don’t need to be tethered to a wall outlet.
Chip design is an expensive game, but Amazon is doing rather well these days. The new reports, as well as industry scuttlebutt over the past year or so, suggest that AWS is also designing its own AI chips for cloud customers, following Google’s lead with its Cloud TPU processors. Unveiled last year, Google announced Monday that its Cloud TPUs have reached the beta stage.