Huawei has spent a lot of time talking about the alleged artificial intelligence capabilities of its latest internal processor design, the Kirin 970. It is among the company's newest Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro smartphones, as well as the Honor View 10, the Kirin 970 has a dedicated "neuronal processing unit" or NPU designed specifically for tasks related to AI.
So far, however, there have not been so many use cases for the NPU, despite Huawei's efforts to promote the open development of artificial intelligence on its platform. Once out of the box, you will only notice that the NPU works on things like the camera application, which automatically detects subjects in the scene according to the image recognition and adjusts the settings accordingly. So this week at the Mobile World Congress, Huawei wanted to test the Kirin 970 in a more physical environment. What happens if the chip is capable of driving a car?
In a parking lot in FC Barcelona's iconic Camp Nou stadium, Huawei is trying just that, and the company says this is the first time that a car without a driver has been powered by a smartphone. Indeed, a Mate 10 Pro mounted on the board of a Porsche Panamera – and connected to a skibox on the roof with a camera and a connection to the transmission – turned the car into a vehicle without driver able to detect and maneuver around certain objects . To be clear, Huawei is not having autonomous driving; This was simply a trick meant to show what can be achieved with the Kirin 970.
The driving test consisted of two parts: a slow 5 mph race where the car and the phone detected and "learned" three large cardboard obstacles, and a 30 mph ride where the car had to avoid one of those obstacles in its path. After the first race, I told the car what to do when detecting each obstacle: turn left towards the dog, turn right in search of the giant soccer ball, brake hard for the man with a bicycle and someone from Huawei He chose what obstacle to place. the road of the car for the second race.
They chose the soccer ball. I put the Porsche in the unit, I clicked "Drive" on the Mate 10 Pro, and the car accelerated towards the ball. Just in time, he swerved to the right, avoiding what might have been an unpleasant prick at least.
The demo worked as planned, and it was definitely impressive in some ways, but it's hard to say what it really shows about the Kirin 970 hardware. Huawei says it shows the NPU's ability to interpret image data, relate it to familiar objects and train to identify objects that are not yet in their recognition model. This is true, and it's great that it's possible for a smart phone chip in a moving vehicle. But the demonstration itself had such a limited data set – two big and wildly different obstacles – that I can not really tell if the NPU is doing a lot of exercise.
You should also keep in mind that our first test drive did not work because the USB-C cable that connects the phone to the camera was defective. This really does not talk about the Artificial Intelligence capabilities of the Kirin 970, of course, I just thought it was worth noting that even hyper-powerful processors encounter the same kind of USB-C problems as we, mere humans.
Even so, in this initial stage of autonomous driving, Huawei was able to put together an image recognition program in less than five weeks, run it on a phone, allow him to take control of a Porsche, and have the confidence that I would not kill any journalist This is still not a good reason to buy a Mate 10 Pro, but it's the kind of thing that can make you think about what will be possible in the future.