Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), or integrated circuits sold off-the-shelf, are a hot topic in the technology. Because they are relatively affordable and can be programmed for a range of use cases, they have particularly caught on in the AI and machine learning space, where they have been used to accelerate the training of AI systems.
The global FPGA market size could reach $14 billion by 2028, according to at one estimate, an increase of $6 billion by 2021.
One startup looking to get in on the ground floor is Rapid Silicon, which this week announced that it raised $15 million in a Series A round led by Cambium Capital. Launched in 2021, Rapid Silicon’s goal is to promote, adopt and deploy open source technology to address the low- to mid-range FPGA market, said CEO and co-founder Naveed Sherwani.
“Rapid Silicon’s software is leading the programmable revolution as the industry’s first and only commercial open source FPGA design suite,” Sherwani, formerly GM at Intel and the former CEO of semiconductor startup SiFive, said in an email interview. “The latest round of funding will be used to further invest in Rapid Silicon’s product portfolio, support the launch of its premier low-end FPGA product… and build on the company’s momentum in leading the acceptance of open source software for commercial applications.”
Rapid Silicon is currently developing two products: Raptor and Gemini. Raptor is electronic design automation software with an interface for designing FPGA applications, while Gemini is a 16 nanometer FPGA with hardware including a dual-core Arm processor, external memory controller, and Ethernet connectivity. Sherwani emphasized that Rapid is based on open source software – another industry first, he says – and designed to meet the needs of FPGA developers tackling challenges in sectors such as healthcare, automotive and industrial.
“Customers are looking for innovative ways to program FPGAs, reduce support load by leveraging the open source ecosystem of active expertise and development engineers, and reduce time to market,” added Sherwani. “With open source software, Rapid Silicon removes the barriers and provides its customers with a robust end-to-end FPGA design workflow. The open source software enables users to quickly and efficiently design complex applications on our FPGA devices.”
Gemini isn’t commercially available, but Sherwani says he expects the FPGA to hit the market by the end of the first quarter. Meanwhile, Rapid Silicon generates revenue — between $2 million and $3 million a year — by licensing its IP.
The FPGA space has formidable competitors, including Intel, which several years ago acquired UK-based Omnitek and Altera to double down on FPGA-based solutions for video and AI applications. But Landon Downs, the managing partner at Cambium Capital, said he sees “immense” potential in Rapid Silicon’s tooling and hardware strategy. While that may sound like exaggeration coming from a VC, Rapid Silicon has apparently intrigued investors; the company expects to complete a $15 million expansion of its Series A in the coming months at a pre-money valuation of $80 million.
“Driven by its purpose and world-class talent, we believe Rapid Silicon is poised to revolutionize the design-to-silicon lead time and provide solutions that meet the robust performance, strength, area and time-to-market requirements for next-generation applications,” he said in a press release. “We see tremendous potential in the company’s AI-enhanced EDA tools and believe this team has the experience needed to bring these solutions to the global market.”