ARM is expanding its ambitions in such areas as connected cars, robotics and the Internet of things with the $350 million acquisition of Apical, a small UK company that develops embedded computer vision products.
Apical's technology enables systems to interpret their surroundings based on images and act accordingly based on that information, an important capability not only for self-driving cars but also for other environments, including smart buildings, security systems, retail applications, robotics and mobile devices. The company's technologies already are finding their way into devices; according to ARM officials, its advanced imaging products are used in more than 1.5 billion smartphones and about 300 other devices, including tablets, IP cameras and digital stills cameras.
ARM closed the deal May 17. Apical was founded in 2002 and has about 100 employees. Most are in the R&D side of the business; about 80 are engineers.
ARM has become the dominant player in the mobile device market, particularly in smartphones and tablets. The company designs systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), and then licenses those designs to such vendors as Samsung, Qualcomm and Nvidia. Like most others in the processors space, ARM officials are seeing the slowdown in shipments as the global smartphone market matures and tablets sales decline, and they are looking for new growth areas. Emerging markets like connected cars, industrial applications, robotics and the IoT will be important to ARM and others.
According to Apical founder and CEO Michael Tusch, much of the technology developed by his company is the result of research into human vision and visual processing.
"The ARM partnership is solving the technical challenges of next-generation products, such as driverless cars and sophisticated security systems," Tusch said in a statement. "These solutions rely on the creation of dedicated image computing solutions, and Apical's technologies will play a crucial role in their delivery."
ARM officials expect the Apical products to complement their company's roadmap for its Mali graphics, display and video processor technologies. The Apical products include Spirit, which brings on-chip computer vision capability by converting raw sensor data or video in a representation of an image that can be read by a machine. In addition, Assertive Display enables screens to adapt to changes in light, while Assertive Camera is a combination of image signal processors (ISPs) and software that offers advancements in high dynamic range, noise reduction and color management.
Apical brings a number of benefits to ARM, according to CTO Mike Muller.
"It's not only its mature products with an evolving roadmap," Muller said in a conference call with analysts and journalists. "It also enables us [to move] into a whole row of connected devices."
He noted that this is the latest acquisition ARM has made to bolster its imaging capabilities. In 2013, ARM bought Geomerics, which specialized in lighting technology for the gaming and entertainment industries, and Cadence's PANTA lineup of high-resolution display processor cores and scaling coprocessor IP cores. Muller said Apical will not be ARM's last acquisition in the computer vision market, particularly as more devices become armed with cameras.
"We're continuing to invest in this space, and we will continue to invest in this space," he said.
ARM CEO Simon Segars said in a statement that computer vision space is important to his company.
"The ARM partnership is solving the technical challenges of next-generation products such as driverless cars and sophisticated security systems," Segars said. "These solutions rely on the creation of dedicated image computing solutions, and Apical's technologies will play a crucial role in their delivery."