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NXP introduces a new processor breed with a dedicated neural processing unit for advanced machine vision applications

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NXP Semiconductors launches its first processor family with an integrated dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) for advanced machine learning, named the i.MX 8M Plus. The application processor series is targeting edge devices for industrial and IoT applications.

The i.MX 8M Plus combines a 2.3 TOPS (Tera Operations Per Second) NPU with a Quad-core Arm Cortex-A53 sub-system running at up to 2GHz, an independent real-time sub-system with an 800MHz Cortex-M7, a high-performance 800MHz audio DSP for voice and natural language processing, dual camera Image Signal Processors (ISP), and a 3D GPU for rich graphics rendering.

The Cortex-A53 cores and NPU will enable edge devices will be able to make intelligent decisions locally by learning and inferring inputs with little or no human involvement. Being a cost-effective device, the i.MX 8M Plus can find itself at the heart of a wide range of applications, including people- and object recognition for public safety, industrial machine vision, robotics, hand gesturing and emotion detection with natural language processing for seamless human-to-device interaction with ultra-fast response time and high accuracy.

“The edge is the perfect destination to deploy machine learning applications, especially as technology advancements are enabling accurate localized decision-making,” said Martyn Humphries, vice president and general manager of i.MX application processors. “The i.MX 8M Plus is a significant milestone and a trendsetter for processing solutions that are capable of transforming the ‘smart’ edge to an ‘intelligent’ edge.” 

Figure 1: NXP i.MX 8M Plus block diagram

The NXP i.MX 8M Plus is built on an advanced 14nm LPC FinFET process technology, and can execute multiple, highly-complex neural networks simultaneously, for multi-object identification, speech recognition and medical imaging. The powerful NPU is capable of processing Mobilenet, a popular image classification network at over 500 images per second. 

Developers can offload machine learning inference functions to the NPU, allowing the high-performance Cortex-A and Cortex-M cores, DSP, and GPUs to execute other system-level or user applications tasks. The vision pipeline is anchored by dual integrated ISPs that support two high-definition cameras for real-time stereo vision or a single 12MPixel resolution camera and includes High Dynamic Range (HDR) and fisheye lens correction. These features enable real-time image processing applications such as surveillance, smart retail applications, robot vision, and home health monitors. 

To enable voice applications, the i.MX 8M Plus integrates a high-performance HiFi 4 DSP that enhances natural language processing with pre- and post-processing of voice streams. The powerful Cortex-M7 domain can be used to run real-time response systems while the applications processor domain executes complex non-real-time applications to reduce the overall system-level power consumption by turning off the application processor domain while keeping only the Cortex-M domain alive for wake word detection. The i.MX 8M Plus extends advanced multimedia, and video processing with a system that can compress multiple video feeds using the H.265 or H.264 HD video encoder and decoder for cloud streaming or local storage and a rich user experience enabled by 3D/2D graphics, and Immersiv3D audio with Dolby Atmos® and DTS:X®. 

Elevating Intelligence for Industrial IoT The i.MX 8M Plus advances industrial productivity and automation with machines that can inspect, measure, precisely identify objects, and enable predictive maintenance by accurately detecting anomalies in machine operation. In addition, the factory human-machine interfaces can be made more intuitive and secure by combining accurate face recognition with voice/command recognition and even gesture recognition. Supporting Industry 4.0 IT/OT convergence, the i.MX 8M Plus integrates Gigabit Ethernet with Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), which combined with Arm Cortex® M7 real-time processing provides deterministic wired network connectivity and processing. 

To meet the high quality and reliability standards required for industrial applications, the i.MX 8M Plus features Error Correction Code (ECC) for internal memories and the DDR interface. The family is expected to be qualified to meet the stringent industrial temperature range (-40C to 105C ambient), power-on profile (100 percent power-on), and is planned to be part of NXP’s industry-best longevity commitment (15 years). 

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