The next version of Microsoft's HoloLens isn't expected to launch anytime soon, but the company is already working on its new holographic headset. Microsoft began shipping HoloLens in March 2016, but the current version of the device is still officially a 'Development Edition' headset.
Microsoft's Harry Shum, executive vice president of its Artificial Intelligence and Research Group, has now shared details on some of the hardware that will power future versions of HoloLens. He announced that the next version of the headset's holographic processing unit (HPU) will feature an artificial intelligence co-processor "to natively and flexibly implement DNNs."
Marc Pollefeys, HoloLens' director of science, explained:
Although we have seen large improvements in the accuracy of recognition as a result of Deep Neural Networks (DNNs), deep learning approaches have two well-known challenges: they require large amounts of labelled data for training, and they require a type of compute that is not amenable to current general purpose processor/memory architectures. Some companies have responded with architectures designed to address the particular type of massively parallel compute required for DNNs, including our own use of FPGAs, for example, but to date these approaches have primarily enhanced existing cloud computing fabrics.
HoloLens needs to handle various compute requirements locally - essential to deal with processes like tracking hand movements with low-latency - but the battery in the headset also needs to power the display, and the other sensors in the device. To ensure that the next version of HoloLens offers improved performance and battery efficiency, without compromising the headset's mobility, Microsoft is designing its own custom AI coprocessor as part of the HPU.
The existing custom-designed HPU is a multiprocessor that deals with all of the information from HoloLens' many sensors, "including Microsoft’s custom time-of-flight depth sensor, head-tracking cameras, the inertial measurement unit (IMU), and the infrared camera."
Microsoft's decision to design its own AI coprocessor for HoloLens comes after a report in May revealed that Apple is working on a similar processing unit for future iPhones, known as the 'Apple Neural Engine'. Despite Microsoft's latest announcement, the next version of HoloLens isn't expected to arrive until 2019.