Microsoft's next HoloLens iteration will focus on machine learning. To achieve this, Microsoft plans to embed an artificial intelligence chip on the wearable device, which the company says will help deliver "quicker" performance while keeping the device as mobile as possible.
Microsoft will design, but won't manufacture, the chip. It's going to be a custom silicon "coprocessor" that will analyze visual data directly from the device, not relying on the cloud so the whole process is expedited.
HoloLens 2 Will Feature A Beefy AI Chip
The announcement comes as a logical evolution of Microsoft's mixed reality device especially at a time when Silicon Valley scrambles to meet the requirements of AI development. Current mobile tech simply hasn't advanced fast enough to support fast, hyper-functioning AI, and often such an undertaking translates to sluggish and seemingly half-baked experiences, albeit workable to a degree.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that deep learning has taken the world of computer vision, and many other recognition tasks, by storm," says Microsoft.
The Holographic Processing Unit, or the HPU, will support Deep Neural Network processing and focus on AI, of course. The chip will be totally programmable.
Holographic Processing Unit
The HPU is one of the key components of the HoloLens device, tasked with processing all the information the sensors receive, including movement tracking, time-of-flight, and the inertial measurement unit sensors, in addition to the infrared camera.
What's most intriguing about the forthcoming iteration of the HoloLens is that it doesn't require being tethered to a PC unit — it relies entirely on its own for all the heavy duty processing tasks, as mentioned above. The HPU, in other words, is its brains.
Will The Device Be Marketed For Mainstream Audiences?
With these in mind, Microsoft hasn't confirmed whether it plans to push the HoloLens 2 into mass market territory or simply continue developing it for special businesses. Consider that the virtual reality market shows signs of steady growth, despite its inherently steep cost and thin games lineup — but the heartbeat is certainly there to keep things in motion. Mixed reality, on the other hand, remains largely unexplored.
But that's the thing about technology: what seems irrelevant and atrocious now can become tomorrow's normal thing. Imagine it's 2003 or 2004, perhaps even earlier. What would a person without a keen sense of the future think of phones with touchscreens? They'd probably laugh.
It's not clear what direction Microsoft plans to take with its mixed reality efforts, but it seems the company is waiting until the market balloons enough for potential profitability. Until then, it's good news that it's working tirelessly on the tech at present so things can be ready when audiences eventually clamor for mixed reality devices.
"We're taking this very seriously," says Microsoft Research engineer Doug Burger, who works on cloud-based chip development strategy. "Our aspiration is to be the No. 1 AI cloud."