Qualcomm’s deep learning SDK will mean more AI on your smartphone

Written by Jaivik Shah

The benefits of machine learning continue to trickle down to smartphones and gadgets, and chipmaker Qualcomm wants to help speed up the process. The company is launching a new software development kit for its “machine intelligence platform” Zeroth. This SDK will make it easier for companies to run deep learning programs directly on devices like smartphones and drones — if they’re powered by one of Qualcomm’s chips, of course.

Right now, you’re probably using all sorts of deep learning programs you don’t know about. Companies like Google and Facebook use this sort of software for things like image and voice recognition, but usually, this process happens in the cloud, with the results beamed to your phone. Qualcomm’s Zeroth SDK (called the Qualcomm Snapdragon Neural Processing Engine) gives manufacturers and companies an easy toolset to run limited deep learning programs locally.


“This means better privacy and lower latency as there are no uploads to the cloud,” Qualcomm’s director of product management, Gary Brotman, told The Verge. He gives the example of a medical app that doctors might use to analyze skin conditions. “Doing the image classification on the device with no trip to the cloud makes sense,” Brotman says. “And it doesn’t matter the kind of data — it could be visual, it could be audio.”

This means that if companies want to build their own deep learning analytics, they won’t have to rent servers to deliver their software to customers. And although running deep learning operations locally means limiting their complexity, the sort of programs you can run on your phone or any other portable device are still impressive. The real limitation will be Qualcomm’s chips. The new SDK will only work with the latest Snapdragon 820 processors from the latter half of 2016, and the company isn’t saying if it plans to expand its availability.


Still, it will mean smarter products on the market, and the first company to integrate the new SDK will be Nauto — a startup that makes smart dashboard cameras for companies responsible for fleets of vehicles. Nauto’s hardware uses deep learning to analyze the driving environment, providing evidence in the case of a crash, and even prompting the driver to pay attention if they’re looking at their smartphone.

However, Qualcomm isn’t the only company making moves in this sector. European chipmaker Movidius has been working with Google since 2014 on processors that specialize in machine vision. The company’s Myriad chips powered the first generation of Google’s space-mapping Tango tablets, and more recently, autonomous drones from DJI. The success of Movidius shows that there’s a market for even specialized deep learning chips, which might prove to be more efficient than Qualcomm’s generalist approach. Whatever happens, though, your smartphone and the rest of your gadgets are only going to get cleverer in the future.

About the author

Jaivik Shah

Jaivik Shah is Editor At Large of TechOptimals, He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century.
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