Microsoft has unveiled the public preview of Azure Percept, a platform of hardware and services that aims to simplify the ways in which customers can use Azure AI technologies on the edge.
Launched at the Ignite digital conference, the service can help organisations take advantage of Azure cloud offerings such as device management, AI model development and analytics.
The Azure Percept platform includes a development kit with Azure Percept Vision intelligent camera and Azure Percept Studio that guides customers with or without a lot of coding expertise or experience through the entire AI lifecycle, including developing, training and deploying proof-of-concept ideas, the company said in a blog post.
According to Roanne Sones, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s edge and platform group, the goal of the new offering is to give customers a single, end-to-end system, from the hardware to the AI capabilities, that “just works” without requiring a lot of technical know-how.
Azure Percept Vision and Azure Percept Audio, which ships separately from the development kit, connect to Azure services in the cloud and come with embedded hardware-accelerated AI modules that enable speech and vision AI at the edge, or during times when the device isn’t connected to the internet. That’s useful for scenarios in which the device needs to make fast calculations without taking the time to connect to the cloud, or in places where there isn’t always reliable internet connectivity.
Sones said the company is working with third-party silicon and equipment manufacturers to build an ecosystem of intelligent edge devices that are certified to run on the Azure Percept platform.
“We’ve started with the two most common AI workloads, vision and voice, sight and sound, and we’ve given out that blueprint so that manufacturers can take the basics of what we’ve started. But they can envision it in any kind of responsible form factor to cover a pattern of the world,” she said.
According to Moe Tanabian, a Microsoft vice president and general manager of the Azure edge and devices group, Azure Percept platform aims to simplify the process of developing, training and deploying edge AI solutions, making it easier for more customers to take advantage of these kinds of offerings.
The hardware in the Azure Percept development kit also uses the industry standard 80/20 T-slot framing architecture, which the company claims will make it easier for customers to pilot proof-of-concept ideas everywhere using existing industrial infrastructure, before scaling up to wider production with certified devices. For development of proof-of-concept ideas using the kit, customers will have access to Azure AI Cognitive Services and Azure Machine Learning models as well as AI models available from the open-source community that have been designed to run on the edge.
Azure Percept devices automatically connect to Azure IoT Hub, which helps enable reliable communication with security protections between Internet of Things, or IoT, devices and the cloud. Customers can also integrate Azure Percept-based solutions with Azure Machine Learning processes that combine data science and IT operations to help companies develop machine learning models faster, it said.
The company aims to expand the number of third-party certified Azure Percept devices in the coming months. As per the company, the service includes the security protections already baked into the Azure platform as it runs on Azure.
The company also said that all the components of the Azure Percept platform have gone through Microsoft’s internal assessment process to operate in accordance with Microsoft’s responsible AI principles – fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability.
The team is currently testing it with select early customers on the development and deployment of AI on edge devices.