Technology

AMD announces its reprogrammable Versal AI chips are ready for space-based deployments


Artificial intelligence inference is about to become a lot more viable for makers of commercial space satellites thanks to Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which said today the latest version of its reprogrammable Versal system-on-a-chip is ready for take off.

More specifically, the company said that its XQR Versal AI Core chip has officially been granted a Class B qualification. Class B is a U.S. Department of Defense specification that determines if computer chips are capable of operating in outer space, by assessing their performance, build quality, reliability and other capabilities.

Having achieved Class B qualification, the radiation-resistant Versal SoC is all set to start shipping by early next year. Among the interested customers is the U.S. defense contractor Raytheon Co, which said it will use the XQRVC190 as the basis of its next-generation space processors to power new satellites and spacecraft.

AMD acquired the Versal adaptive SoC business as part of its $49 billion deal to buy Xilinx Inc., a maker of field-programmable gate arrays. At the time, the company said it was buying Xilinx to better compete with Intel Corp. and Nvidia Corp. in the AI compute space.

The Versal SoCs should make it possible for satellites to process data and infer on AI with much greater performance than was previously possible, AMD said. That’s because it comes with capabilities that were previously only available with customized application-specific integrated circuits, which the company said are “prohibitively expensive” for many satellite operators. It certainly packs a punch, with the 7-nanometer SoC powered by dual-core Arm Cortex A72 and dual-core Arm Cortex R5 embedded central processing units, more than 400 AI compute engines, 900,000 logic cells and 191 million bits of memory, AMD said.

What really makes the Versal SoCs so compelling however is that they can be reprogrammed on the fly to take on different kinds of workloads, AMD said. Due to this, satellite operators will be able to switch their processing algorithms when required to ensure their communications and remote sensing applications are in tip-top condition. That’s not possible with ASICs, which incorporate fixed logic and cannot be altered once they’re built.

“Its heterogeneous computing capabilities and reconfigurable logic fabric will enable our teams to integrate more on-board processing in a considerably smaller footprint, enabling unprecedented advances in system-level size, weight and power,” said Raytheon’s senior director of space systems Barry Liu.

Image: PIRO4D / Pixabay

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