The brains of most phones are a CPU and a GPU for processing information and providing graphical grunt, respectively. But with its next phones, Huawei is looking to cram a third type of processor in there: what it calls a Neural Processing Unit (NPU). The company's new flagship chip, the Kirin 970, will include a dedicated AI processor, and offload some of the work to the cloud.
Artificial intelligence is fast becoming a key part of computing, as machine learning algorithms are able to recognize objects and sort through data far faster than any human ever could. The technology is already starting to bleed into mobile devices: Qualcomm's next generation of Snapdragon chips will include a Neural Processing Engine SDK to allow developers to begin working with AI, and Microsoft has announced that the consumer version of its AR headset, the HoloLens, will feature an AI coprocessor.
At IFA over the weekend, Huawei announced that it's following suit. The Kirin 970 features an 8-core CPU and a hefty 12-core GPU, and is built on a 10-nm architecture that squeezes some 5.5 billion transistors into each square cm. Those are decent specs for a new mobile chip, but the headline feature is the NPU, which was able to process 2,000 images per minute in a benchmark image recognition test.
Huawei says that makes the Kirin 970 25 times faster and 50 times more energy efficient than a quad-core Cortex-A73 cluster, which it used as the bulk of the Mate 9's 8-core CPU. Since the sensors in a device can generate a lot of data in real-time, the chip's NPU will share the data load between AI on-device and in the cloud.
"Huawei is committed to developing smart devices into intelligent devices by building end-to-end capabilities that support coordinated development of chips, devices, and the cloud," says Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei. "The ultimate goal is to provide a significantly better user experience. The Kirin 970 is the first in a series of new advances that will bring powerful AI features to our devices and take them beyond the competition."
Huawei announced via Twitter that the Kirin 970 will be powering the Mate 10, due to launch on October 16. The company also plans to open up the chip as a mobile AI platform, allowing developers to experiment with the technology and find new ways to make use of it.