Chip Firm Lightmatter Taps 20-Year Intel Veteran to Lead Engineering

0
8
  • Ritesh Jain, a 20-year veteran of Intel, will join chip firm Lightmatter as its VP of engineering. 
  • Lightmatter build light-based semiconductor chips, and has raised $113M at a $240M valuation.
  • Jain told Insider he’ll help Lightmatter scale up chip manufacturing for mass production.

Computer chips that use light to transmit and process data aren’t a new concept. That technology — formally called light photonics — has been around for 65 years. But despite the promise that light-based chips could bring greater energy efficiency and faster data processing than their more traditional silicon-based forebears, the tech hasn’t seen widespread industry adoption owing to the cost and complexity involved in manufacturing them.

Chip maker Lightmatter wants to change that, bringing light photonics to the chip industry mainstream. And it’s poaching from a chip giant to make that happen.

On Monday, Lightmatter announced that Ritesh Jain, a 20-year Intel veteran, joined as vice president of engineering. Jain worked at the chip giant in different engineering roles, but most recently was the firm’s VP of engineering for its data center and artificial intelligence division. The startup is hiring Jain to help it move from the prototype phase of its chip development to mass production.

“I’ve had a fabulous journey having learned to take something from concept or idea to scale, developing a product that can actually be manufactured at scale and reliable at scale,” he told Insider.

Light photonics, sometimes called optical computing, uses light instead of electrons to transfer and process data. Proponents of the tech say that unlike traditional silicon chips, light-based semiconductors can process data as its being transmitted, making them capable of faster speeds and more energy efficiency. 

Taking something from the prototype phase to mass production presents many difficulties, but light photonic chips can be especially hard since they’re more intricate and involve lasers and mirrors, according to Nick Harris, CEO and co-founder of Lightmatter. The company’s aim is to streamline the process, such that the cost and performance of these chips become competitive with those more traditional chips made by companies like Intel and AMD. That’s where Jain’s experience can come in handy, Harris said.

“There aren’t that many things in the world where you build an entire city level of complexity in a device,” Harris told Insider. “You have to make sure the manufacturing is reliable and robust and it’s this huge show that goes into taking silicon and deploying it and Ritesh has seen this at the most grand scale.”

Lightmatter currently sells two chips. Its Envise chip handles the programming behind AI processes. The firm’s Passage chip, on the other hand, is an interconnected array of chips designed for data centers.

Those products are still in production. While Lightmatter has secured commitments to purchase its chips, the company declined to share specifics. It plans to get its products in customer’s hands by early 2023, according to Harris. 

Still, Lightmatter has raised $113 million at a $240 million valuation according to Pitchbook, despite still only being in the prototype phase. The firm has attracted the investments of big venture capital firms like Matrix Partners and Spark Capital. Defense firm Lockheed Martin, enterprise giant HP, and Google have also invested in the company.

Across the industry, photonics-based chip startups are just starting to hit their stride. Earlier this year, optical chip company Ayar Labs closed a $130 million Series C round lead by the investment arms of chip giants Intel and Nvidia. Wireless company Nokia completed its acquisition of photonic chip company Elenion in 2020 for an undisclosed amount.  

Jain says that the demand for faster and more energy efficient computing by all tech sectors lead him to leave Intel after 20 years for a new start. “The emphasis is on the need, the word, this is the time when the need is the most,” Jain told Insider. “I am super excited, I sometimes have goosebumps thinking about it.”

Source