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Hyundai Motor invests $50m in Canadian AI chip startup Tenstorrent

Carmaker to co-develop AI chips for self-driving cars, robotics and advanced air mobility

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : Aug. 3, 2023 - 15:00

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Kim Heung-soo (right), global strategy officer at Hyundai Motor Group, and Tenstorrent CEO Jim Keller pose for a photo during a signing ceremony at Tenstorrent’s office in Santa Clara, California in an undated photo provided on Wednesday (Hyundai Motor Group) Kim Heung-soo (right), global strategy officer at Hyundai Motor Group, and Tenstorrent CEO Jim Keller pose for a photo during a signing ceremony at Tenstorrent’s office in Santa Clara, California in an undated photo provided on Wednesday (Hyundai Motor Group)

Hyundai Motor Group said Thursday it has invested $50 million in Canadian artificial intelligence semiconductor startup Tenstorrent in a move to secure key technology for future mobility.

Tenstorrent recently closed a $100 million strategic funding round, for which Hyundai and its smaller affiliate Kia shelled out $30 million and $20 million, respectively. Samsung Catalyst Fund, Samsung Electronics’ evergreen multi-stage venture capital fund, was also reported as one of the largest investors, however, the details on the investments were not made available.

The carmaker plans to advance its automotive chip technology for future vehicles such as autonomous driving cars, which require AI chips that run on neural processing units. NPU refers to a processor optimized for deep learning algorithms computing.

“Self-driving cars must analyze and make judgement calls on how to drive and avoid obstacles on roads,” the company said. “NPU is key to the vehicles’ operating system because it can process multiple pieces of data at the same time based on cognitive computing, like human brains.”

In partnership with Tenstorrent, Hyundai aims codevelop AI chips for robotics and advanced air mobility in addition to cars.

“Tenstorrent is the best partner with great potential in the AI chip market,” said Kim Heung-soo, global strategy officer at Hyundai Motor Group, in a statement. “The company will develop cutting edge chip technology fit for future mobility and increase cooperation with chip suppliers.”

Founded in Toronto in 2016, Tenstorrent started off as a fabless semiconductor startup. This year, chip industry veteran Jim Keller, who had led chip designs at Apple and Tesla, took over as the CEO. Most of the company’s engineers are known to have built their careers in Silicon Valley companies.

Hyundai has been ramping up its commitment to secure a competitive edge in semiconductor technology. Earlier this year, it set up a chip research and development unit in the company.

Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Chung Euisun reaffirmed his commitment to achieving the goal of replacing all upcoming Hyundai and Kia cars with SDVs by 2025 early this year, saying: “Self-driving cars need around 2,000 chips, compared to some 200 to 300 chips for regular cars.”

In June, Hyundai forged a chip partnership with Samsung Electronics, who will be supplying its latest premium automotive processor, called Exynos Auto V920, to Hyundai’s in-car infotainment systems from 2025. The processors will allow drivers to enjoy high-resolution media content, including high-spec online games, according to Samsung.

It was the first time that Samsung has announced an official partnership with the automaker. Thus far, Hyundai has used chips from foreign partners such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and Infineon Technologies.

According to data from market tracker IHS Markit, global automotive chip market is projected to grow to $143 billion by 2029, compared to last year’s $68 billion.