Oriole Networks raises £10m to build AI ‘super-brains’ with Light-Speed Training and Low Power Consumption

Oriole Networks, a startup that utilises light to train Large Language Models (LLMs) a hundred times faster with only a fraction of the power, has secured £10 million in Seed funding to enhance AI performance and adoption, and address the pressing energy issue in AI.

This financing round, among the largest Seed rounds in the UK of recent years, was jointly led by UCL Technology Fund, Clean Growth Fund, XTX Ventures, and Dorilton Ventures, with additional support from the Innovate UK Investor Partnership.

Established in 2023 by UCL scientists, Professor George Zervas, Alessandro Ottino, and Joshua Benjamin, alongside experienced CEO James Regan, Oriole Networks has innovated a groundbreaking method to link thousands of AI chips using light. This connection enables the combination of the computational power of individual graphics processing units (GPUs) into a cohesive "super-brain." Such a super-brain is capable of training advanced LLMs a hundred times quicker, with a thousandth of the latency, while consuming significantly less energy.

This breakthrough not only mitigates the "obscene energy demands of AI" but is poised to transform time-sensitive tasks like algorithmic trading, broaden AI adoption, and fast-track the advancement of machine learning algorithms in a carbon-conscious world. The technology offers substantial benefits to all firms engaged with or in AI, especially data centres. Data centres are vital for the growth and spread of Software as a Service (SaaS) and its evolution towards AI integration but are currently grappling with systemic issues and unsustainable energy use due to escalating demands.

Oriole Networks emanates from a spinout of University College London, with its intellectual property licensed through UCL’s technology transfer company, UCLB. The company is spearheaded by CEO James Regan, who boasts a successful history of developing tech companies from university spinouts, including the transformation of EFFECT Photonics into a company valued at half a billion dollars.

George Zervas, CTO, said: “AI computational needs are increasing by 10 times every 18 months. This leads to distributed training and inference across large numbers of xPUs. Collective data movement across the servers in the data centre becomes a bottleneck which in turn limits the training and inference completion time. This requires a fundamental shift in the co-design of next generation networked systems.”

James Regan, CEO, added: “As the demand for compute continues to increase, it is critical to find new solutions that can address these challenges in a sustainable and carbon efficient manner. Our novel approach to harness the power of light has already demonstrated significant technical performance improvements, up to 100 times speed up in completion time and 40 times improvements in energy consumption.”

David Grimm, Partner UCL Technology Fund, said: “It’s rare to have such depth of innovation over many years at UCL combined with an experienced entrepreneur with domain knowledge and a massive market that is looking for this solution. This is going to be an exciting journey.”

Daniel Freeman, General Partner at Dorilton Ventures, said: “We invest in companies in the IT infrastructure, data science, and cyber security segments whose products support computationally driven businesses. Over the last decade, compute performance has improved ten times faster than networking performance, so HPC environments are highly network constrained. Oriole’s exciting approach can unlock the latent potential in existing infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Beverley Gower-Jones OBE, Managing Partner of Clean Growth Fund, emphasised the criticality of sustainable development: “The world’s data centres already consume as much electricity as the whole of the UK, and it is rising rapidly, threatening to consume as much as the whole of Europe unless something is done. This radical approach to Net Zero innovation is exactly what is needed.”