Qualcomm buys AI company Scyfer, continues focus on end devices

Qualcomm sign
San Diego-based Qualcomm started exploring spiking neuron approaches to machine learning for computer vision and motion control applications in 2007.

Qualcomm Technologies announced the acquisition of Scyfer B.V., a company affiliated with the University of Amsterdam that has built artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for companies worldwide and in a number of different industries.

While a lot of companies focus on the execution of AI workloads in the cloud, Qualcomm says it’s focused on the implementation of AI on end devices, i.e., smartphones, cars, robotics and the like—to ensure that processing can be done with or without a network or Wi-Fi connection. The benefits of on-device AI include immediate response, enhanced reliability, increased privacy protection and efficient use of network bandwidth, the company says.

In July, Qualcomm made available the Qualcomm Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine software development kit for developers from multiple industries—mobile, automotive, healthcare, security and imaging—to get the tools they need to deliver on-device neural network-driven user experiences.

Qualcomm’s experience with machine learning goes back to 2007, when it started exploring spiking neuron approaches to machine learning for computer vision and motion-control applications. It later expanded the scope of the research to look not just at biologically inspired approaches but also artificial neural networks, primarily deep learning.

“We started fundamental research a decade ago, and our current products now support many AI use cases from computer vision and natural language processing to malware detection on a variety of devices—such as smartphones and cars—and we are researching broader topics, such as AI for wireless connectivity, power management and photography,” said Matt Grob, executive vice president of technology at Qualcomm, in a press release.

Qualcomm said it looks forward to adding Scyfer’s team to its roster. Scyfer’s founder, Max Welling, will continue in his role as a professor at the University of Amsterdam, and the rest of the Scyfer team will continue to be based in Amsterdam. Scyfer has built AI solutions for companies worldwide and in a number of different industries, including manufacturing, healthcare and finance.

In 2015, Qualcomm Technologies and the University of Amsterdam also established QUVA, a joint research lab focused on advancing cutting-edge machine-learning techniques for mobile and computer vision. That work is expected to continue.

Last month, San Diego-based Brain Corp., a Qualcomm Ventures-backed company, announced that it had raised a $114 million series C funding round led by the SoftBank Vision Fund. Qualcomm was also an investor in that round.

Brain has developed AI and self-driving technology to enable robots to perceive their environment, learn to control their motion and navigate using visual cues and landmarks while avoiding people and obstacles. SoftBank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son said at the time that Brain's team is at the forefront of creating the future and a more convenient way of life through technology.

Qualcomm's executive chairman, Paul Jacobs, holds a Ph.D. in robotics.