Microsoft advances second-gen HoloLens by adding special AI chip

Posted Jul 24, 2017 by James Walker
Microsoft has announced that the second-generation version of the unique processor used in its HoloLens augmented reality headset will include AI capabilities. The company has incorporated the technology to reduce latency and improve compute performance.
Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens
HoloLens isn't a typical device. As one of the world's only augmented reality headsets, it uses a carefully designed hardware configuration that's totally unique. The main Intel-provided processor is supplemented by a custom 24-core chip designed and built by Microsoft.
Microsoft today provided some information on improvements it's making to the chip, known as the Holographic Processing Unit, or HPU, in preparation for a second-generation version. Speaking at the computer vision event CVPR, Microsoft announced it's adding an AI coprocessor to the HPU. This will be used to simplify the implementation of neural networks on the device, expanding its holographic capabilities.
In a blog post, HoloLens director of science Marc Pollefeys explained how incorporating AI will aid the development of HoloLens. One of the biggest challenges HoloLens faces is computer vision, or identifying objects in the real world. Microsoft's industry competitors – and Microsoft itself – have seen success in using neural networks to create accurate computer vision technologies.
There's a problem when it comes to implementing these on HoloLens. Since the device is an untethered headset that's battery-powered and worn by the wearer, there's not enough power to run regular computer vision algorithms. Microsoft has responded to the issue by developing more custom silicon for HoloLens, expanding the HPU with an AI chip that can run from a battery.
"This is just one example of the new capabilities we are developing for HoloLens, and is the kind of thing you can do when you have the willingness and capacity to invest for the long term, as Microsoft has done throughout its history," said Microsoft. "And this is the kind of thinking you need if you're going to develop mixed reality devices that are themselves intelligent. Mixed reality and artificial intelligence represent the future of computing, and we're excited to be advancing this frontier."
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The development marks a step forward in how computer vision is approached which could be expanded to other portable devices. HoloLens' HPU already contains dedicated chips to process inputs from the device's sensors, measure depth, perform head tracking and calculate inertia values. It now offers the option to run complex neural networks on a wearable device powered by a battery, further expanding its capabilities. Additional changes expected to be made for the second HoloLens development kit include a wider field of view and improved graphical detail.