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September 2, 2017

Huawei’s powerhouse Kirin 970 chip has its own processor dedicated to AI

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Mobile artificial intelligence is a power hungry beast, and processors like the Kirin 970 are designed to cope with the load, and provide super fast AI in next-generation devices.

Huawei has announced the Kirin 970 processor, a new generation of hyper-fast mobile chips with a key new feature: A Neural Processing Unit (NPU). It’s key because it drives the Kirin 970’s mobile artificial intelligence platform, which will enable cloud-based AI and on-device AI to run alongside each other, faster than ever before.

These two AI technologies can complement each other, Huawei said, improving the experience for smartphone owners by providing more speed, more personalized data, and a better understanding of the world around it. While AI is most often associated with virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, Huawei hasn’t launched an assistant of its own yet, and is staying quiet about how we’ll eventually use it. Instead, it’s demonstrating the NPU’s super speedy image recognition.

The Kirin 970 can process 2,000 images per minute, considerably more than other chips with similar capabilities, and it’s all thanks to the NPU. We’ve seen a demonstration of its image recognition skills too, and we were impressed with how quickly it could identify simple objects from chairs to birds. It also reacted at the same speed when faced with an unexpected image given to it by us. When shown a thumb, it didn’t know what appendage it was seeing, but did know it was attached to a person.

What gives the Kirin 970 its power? It’s built using a 10nm process, like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, and has an astonishing 5.5 million transistors in a space measuring a single square centimeter. Moving on from the quad-core Kirin 960, which powers the Huawei Mate 9 and Huawei P10, the Kirin 970 has an eight core CPU and a 12-core GPU. Huawei said it has 25 times the power and 50 times the efficiency of a quad-core chip with a Cortex A73 CPU, as used in the Kirin 960.

Huawei has big plans for artificial intelligence, but hasn’t leapt straight in with a virtual assistant, so what will the Kirin 970 and the NPU actually do for us? It’s a mystery at the moment, but more may be revealed in October when the company is expected to announce the Mate 10. It’s likely to be the first device to use the chip, and may include special AI-driven features we’ve yet to hear about.

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