At its first artificial intelligence developer conference in Beijing, China, last week, Intel unveiled a second generation neural network in USB form, the Neural Compute Stick 2. Designed to level the neural net development playing field, the thumbdrive-sized device is shipping worldwide now.

"The first-generation Intel Neural Compute Stick sparked an entire community of AI developers into action with a form factor and price that didn't exist before," said Intel's Naveen Rao. "We're excited to see what the community creates next with the strong enhancement to compute power enabled with the new Intel Neural Compute Stick 2."

Version 2 has been treated to quite the performance boost over last year's Movidius Stick, with Intel promising image classification and object detection performance increases of up to eight times.

This is thanks to the Myriad X VPU (vision processing unit) on which it's based, the first Intel VPU to feature a dedicated hardware neural network interface, coupled with more compute cores (16 of them) – allowing developers to "go from prototyping into production leveraging a range of Intel vision accelerator form factors in real-world applications."

The 2.85 x 1.06 x 0.56 in (72.5 x 27 x 14 mm) Neural Compute Stick 2 can be plugged into a laptop over standard USB 3.0 and is compatible with Ubuntu, CentOS and Windows 10 64-bit operating systems. Intel says that "with a laptop and the Intel NCS 2, developers can have their AI and computer vision applications up and running in minutes."

The neural network training kit for IoT and network edge devices doesn't require any additional hardware, so AI algorithms and computer vision systems for smart devices, drones, robots and more can be created and deployed locally, without developers needing to access the cloud. It also supports the OpenVINO development toolkit for greater prototyping flexibility, and prototypes can be ported to more form factors thanks to the Intel AI: In Production ecosystem.

The price for the latest Compute Stick has been set at US$99, the launch video below has more.

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