XMOS_NT_003It’s one thing to have a big idea, but another to make it a reality. This is a landscape in which many tech startups find themselves: brimming with creativity and know-how within their field, small companies are often unable to source the integrated systems required to design the product they had in mind.

But there’s one business in the South West that has made it their goal to connect the dots and help aspiring developers reach their full potential. Step forward Bristol-based XMOS, specialists in the production of semiconductors – or microprocessors, as they are more commonly referred to.

To learn more about the trailblazing firm, we spoke to XMOS CEO Nigel Toon about the company’s roots, the products it has to offer and how he sees the young tech firm developing in the future.

From new venture to venture capital

The seeds of the company were planted by IT researchers in the hallowed laboratories of Bristol University and in 2005 the team’s experiments evolved into a fully fledged company, but it would take another two years before the resources required to develop its microprocessors for market became available.

Skip forward to 2014 and XMOS gained private funding to expand their business – a pattern we’re seeing more and more in the South West, as big names from the world of high tech venture capital, including XMOS’s backers Amadeus Capital Partners, DFJ Esprit and Foundation Capital, scout the area. Providing buy-in from the likes of Bosch and Huawei, the company’s investment even enabled XMOS to branch out from its Bristol HQ and set up operations in Chennai, India.

Liberating, not limiting

According to the firm, at the core of XMOS’s success is its ability to speak the same language as developers.

On this point, Nigel Toon argues that such an understanding of the way software engineers operate is “fundamental” to its microprocessors: “The major part of the design of every product today is actually done by software developers – and we’re not just talking about smartphone apps, but everything from industrial robots to washing machines.” Such diversity is demonstrated by the many applications for which XMOS’ semiconductors are utilised.

“The major part of the design of every product today is actually done by software developers – and we’re not just talking about smartphone apps, but everything from industrial robots to washing machines”


Whether it’s making music or building the ultimate home-entertainment system, one major area the company works in is digital audio interfacing and DSP processing for audio products. XMOS’ products have also been a major driver in the adoption of Audio Video Broadcast (AVB) technology by the automotive industry, with such systems featuring heavily in other consumer and industrial fields.

At the core

The company’s flagship development is its xCORE technology. The size of a standard microprocessor, it can power any number of embedded applications simultaneously and is intended to free developers from the complex web of interlocking microcontrollers and digital signal processors (DSP) that inhibit their work.

For Nigel Toon, this integration of such processes not only “makes for a much simpler and easier way of building embedded systems”, but also, “allows software developers to achieve things they’ve never been able to do before”.

As well as housing all interface solutions, DSP, and security within a single chip, the multiple cores within the xCORE microprocessor provide greater control to the user by forming a system that has to perform its calculations and deliver results at a guaranteed time.

In lay terms, that means the methods and technology used within xCORE condense and replace the expensive, unreliable mix of software and semiconductors available to developers with a more intuitive and affordable piece of kit. xCORE is an attractive prospect for electrical designers everywhere.

Gather no MOS

When asked where he feels the company will be in five years time, Toon is enthusiastic: “It’s an exciting time to be in our business.” he says. Keen to stay at the forefront of the microprocessor industry, the XMOS team are looking to widen the company’s scope to develop a diverse offering, from “products that understand human speech to domestic robots that can efficiently clean your home automatically”.

Thanks go to Nigel for talking to us. If you’re a developer or software engineer and want to learn more about how XMOS microprocessors can help to improve your designs, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.