In the chip industry, booming growth could arrive just as the industry is fundamentally changing. More companies are concluding that software running on standard intel-style microprocessors is not the best solution for all problems.

For that reason, companies like Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have long designed specialty chips for products such as networking gear.

Giants like Apple, Amazon and Google more recently have gotten onto the act. Google's YouTube unit recently disclosed its first internally developed chip to speed video encoding.

And Volkswagen said late last month that it would develop its own processor to manage autonomous vehicles.

Chip design teams are no longer working just for traditional chip companies, said Pierre Lamond, a 90-year-old venture capitalist who joined the chip industry in 1957. '' They are breaking new grounds in many respects,'' he said.

Little of that activity would be possible, Mr. Keller and others said, without advances in design software by Synopsys and its biggest rival, Cadence Design Systems.

Chip design software gained popularity in the 1980s to streamline tasks that engineers once carried out with pencils and drafting tables, painstakingly drawing clusters of transistors and other components on chips.

The software tools have continually evolved; some carmakers, for example, use Synopsys powered simulations of how future chips will work to write software for them in advance, Mr. de Geus said.

Synopsys, which he co-founded in 1986, has grown steadily, partly, by acquisitions, to a valuation of $36 billion.

Mr. de Geus said that new growth was coming from what seemed like a problem : a slowdown in Moore's Law, industry shorthand for the perennial race to shrink chip circuitry so chips do more with less silicon.

In response, he said, some companies are using Synopsys tools to design entire systems and bundles of smaller chips that work like a single processor.

During the recent speech to users, Mr. de Geus demonstrated how artificial -intelligence enhancements could allow Synopsys tools to automatically decide how best to situate and connect blocks of circuitry on a chip.

A system managed by a single engineer did the work two to five times as fast as a team of designers, Mr. de Geus said, while its design used up to 13 percent less energy.

''The ability to use A,I, to design A.I. chips, that is the ultimate cool,'' he said. ''There you meet science fiction.''

Such software is one of the biggest expenses facing start-ups, chips executives said. That was one reason Rick Lazansky, an industry veteran, in 2014 formed.

Silicon Catalyst, a so-called incubator that aids start-ups with donated design software and other services in exchange for equity stakes.

The firm estimates that it has evaluated more than 400 such ventures and selected 38 to help.

One is Sonical, which is developing chips to power a kind of a computer for the ear, using artificial intelligence to blend sounds around a user with those delivered from devices like smartphones, said Garry Spittle, its chief executive.

Despite some successes among start-ups, Mr. Spittle said, he still has difficulty courting venture capitalists who continue to prefer businesses like software. 

So does Aron Kirschen, chief executive of Semron, a German start-up that is working on an augmented reality chip that could fit on a contact lens.

He got help from Berkeley Skydeck, a business accelerator affiliated with the University of California that aids 130 start-ups every six months. So far it has chosen only seven related to semiconductors, but hopes to pick up pace as more investors warm to the field.

The World Students Society thanks author Don Clark.


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