Coral Is Google’s Quiet Initiative To Enable AI Without the Cloud

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    Google is working to improve the speed and security of on-device AI through a little-known initiative called Coral. The Verge reports: “Traditionally, data from [AI] devices was sent to large compute instances, housed in centralized data centers where machine learning models could operate at speed,” Vikram Tank, product manager at Coral, explained to The Verge over email. “Coral is a platform of hardware and software components from Google that help you build devices with local AI — providing hardware acceleration for neural networks … right on the edge device.” To meet customers’ needs Coral offers two main types of products: accelerators and dev boards meant for prototyping new ideas, and modules that are destined to power the AI brains of production devices like smart cameras and sensors. In both cases, the heart of the hardware is Google’s Edge TPU, an ASIC chip optimized to run lightweight machine learning algorithms — a (very) little brother to the water-cooled TPU used in Google’s cloud servers. While its hardware can be used by lone engineers to create fun projects (Coral offers guides on how to build an AI marshmallow-sorting machine and smart bird feeder, for example), the long-term focus, says Tank, is on enterprise customers in industries like the automotive world and health care. Although Coral is targeting the world of enterprise, the project actually has its roots in Google’s “AIY” range of do-it-yourself machine learning kits, says Tank. Launched in 2017 and powered by Raspberry Pi computers, AIY kits let anyone build their own smart speakers and smart cameras, and they were a big success in the STEM toys and maker markets. Tank says the AIY team quickly noticed that while some customers just wanted to follow the instructions and build the toys, others wanted to cannibalize the hardware to prototype their own devices. Coral was created to cater to these customers. The Coral team says it’s trying to differentiate itself from the competition by tightly integrating its hardware with Google’s ecosystem of AI services. “Coral is so tightly integrated with Google’s AI ecosystem that its Edge TPU-powered hardware only works with Google’s machine learning framework, TensorFlow, a fact that rivals in the AI edge market The Verge spoke to said was potentially a limiting factor,” the report says. “Coral products process specifically for their platform [while] our products support all the major AI frameworks and models in the market,” a spokesperson for AI edge firm Kneron told The Verge. (Kneron said there was “no negativity” in its assessment and that Google’s entry into the market was welcome as it “validates and drives innovation in the space.”) Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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