The Next HoloLens will have AI.

Image: andrew burton/Mashable

There will be a Microsoft HoloLens 2, and it will be smarter than ever.

During a speech at the 2017 Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference (CVPR) on Sunday, Microsoft artificial intelligence and research group executive Harry Shum outlined plans to incorporate artificial intelligence into the mixed-reality headset.

To do so, Microsoft is building its own silicon, a brand-new AI co-processor that will be incorporated into the next version of the HoloLen’s Holographic Processing Unit (HPU).

Microsoft’s HoloLens is unusual in the virtual and augmented (or mixed) reality space in that it’s stand-alone Windows 10 PC that blends the real world you see through the HoloLens visor with a 3D one that’s projected in front of your eyes. 

Unlike the immersive Oculus Rift headset, HoloLens doesn’t require a tethered PC. All the processing and sensor interpretation happens locally, on the HPU, which also means it all runs off the HoloLens’s single, internal battery. 

Custom, native silicon is critical to building HoloLens 2.0’s native AI capabilities, without introducing latency or draining the on-board battery too quickly.

Microsoft will use this new AI co-processor, which is fully programmable by Microsoft, to locally manage and implement Deep Neural Networks, a core component of AI and machine learning.

On-board AI also potentially means that the HPU, and therefore the HoloLens, could recognize new visual information more quickly and create even more impressive augmented reality interactions. 

Shum apparently showed off an example of the still-under-development HPU 2.0’s AI prowess during his keynote, but we were unable to find visual evidence of the demo at the time of publication.

Artist's conception of the new AI-co-processor.

Artist’s conception of the new AI-co-processor.

While the promise of an AI-ready mixed reality headset is exciting, most consumers probably won’t be able to experience it. HoloLens still costs between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on edition, and is not available for purchase by everyday consumers, only to certain developers. In fact, Microsoft shows no inclination to build a consumer HoloLens. 

Instead, they’ve worked with partners to create tethered mixed reality headsets that rely on connected computers for all their processing power. It’s unlikely that any of those will get the HPU 2.0.

Microsoft offered no detail on when HoloLens 2.0 with its new AI co-processor will ship.

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