Microsoft announces Azure Kinect, Brainwave, AR, DJI partnership, accessible AI launches
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella onstage

Microsoft announces Azure Kinect, Brainwave, AR, DJI partnership, accessible AI launches

Microsoft’s Build 2018 developers event is underway in Seattle, with the aim of helping coders get to grips with the company’s plans in AI, machine learning, cloud computing, app development, and more.

Among the headlines so far from the event, Microsoft has partnered with Chinese drone giant DJI on a Windows 10 software development kit (SDK) that will allow full flight control of DJI drones, and communication between them and any device running Microsoft’s operating system.

The SDK will also make it possible to integrate third-party hardware, such as multi-spectral sensors or actuators, with the drones, expanding what developers are able to do with remote-controlled aerial platforms. Software-controlled custom actuators would open up greater potential for drones to be used for maintenance and repair work, for example.

The new partnership positions Microsoft Azure as DJI’s preferred cloud provider.

Brainwave for Azure

Microsoft has also demonstrated its new Brainwave system, which is now available as a preview in Azure.

Announced last Summer, Project Brainwave allows developers to deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning applications on custom chips, such as programmable field gate arrays (FGPAs), to enable operation at higher speeds and lower latency than would be possible on a traditional CPU or even a GPU, claimed the company.

• Microsoft recently announced Azure Sphere, an edge solution that combines chip design, an IoT operating system, and cloud service to secure more the nine billion new microcontroller-powered devices that enter the market each year.

By adding Brainwave to Azure, Microsoft said its cloud environment is now the fastest for running real-time AI, including neural networks. However, many believe that the cloud is inherently too slow for time-critical AI, which demands increased intelligence at the edge – a key focus of Microsoft’s recent $5 billion refocusing on the Internet of Things (IoT).

Microsoft has also pledged $25 million for a new AI for Accessibility programme, which will focus on AI’s potential to help people with disabilities via grants and a commitment to design more accessible technology.

Kinect in the cloud

At what Microsoft calls “the intelligent edge”, the company has also announced the availability of its previously defunct Kinect depth-sensor technology as an Azure cloud service, in combination with AI and Brainwave.

The sensor combines a resolution of 1024 x 1024 megapixels with a power consumption of just 225-950mw, automatic per-pixel gain selection, multiphase depth calculation, and a global shutter for improved performance, even in low light conditions.

The thinking is that, by combining depth-sensor data with AI in Azure, it is possible to apply deep-learning algorithms to depth images much faster and more cheaply.

Microsoft also used Build 2018 to announce a new mixed-reality application, Layout, which developers can use in tandem with the company’s HoloLens holographic computer/augmented reality (AR) glasses to view 3D models at real-world scale.

The system allows designers to visualise spaces and construct floor plans and other 3D designs using holographic elements, such as furniture.

Using Layout, designers can create environments virtually via Microsoft Mixed Reality and HoloLens, then go to the real-world space the design has been created for and view the plans in situ as a mixed-reality overlay – as this video demonstrates.

Meanwhile, another new mixed-reality application, Remote Assist, allows workers to collaborate on tasks remotely while receiving hands-free assistance from experts.

At the event, Microsoft also debuted the integration of its Cortana AI with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant, the first fruits of a collaboration agreement made last year between the two companies.

It also premiered a new cone-shaped, Cortana-enabled meeting device, which is designed to recognise individual speakers and accurately transcribe conversations in real time for remote users. The device was alluded to in CEO Satya Nadella’s recent earnings call to Wall Street analysts.

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that…”

Internet of Business says

Despite the cataclysm of the Ballmer years, which saw the company cede control of the mobile space to Apple and Google, Microsoft has – under Nadella’s quieter and more focused leadership – completed its transformation into an enterprise facilitator, with a focus on Azure, cognitive services, the IoT, and the intelligent edge. That is no mean achievement after allowing its 95 percent ownership of the desktop OS environment to be completely sidelined by Android and iOS this century.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is the editor of Internet of Business, and specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, digital marketing, and space exploration, and spoken at numerous other events.