Microsoft may have given up on smart speakers for the consumer, but the technology giant hasn’t given up on letting others build intelligent devices based on its own technologies and hardware.
On Tuesday, Redmond launched Azure Percept, a platform of hardware and services that’s built around Microsoft-designed hardware and Microsoft’s Azure artificial intelligence (AI) platform. They're part of what's known as “edge computing,” intelligent devices that can process data on their own but are best when combined with the cloud.
To get started, Microsoft unveiled Azure Percept Vision, a smart camera; plus Azure Percept Audio, an intelligent audio system at its virtual Microsoft Ignite conference. They can connect to the Azure IoT Hub.
While these components could go into consumer-focused smart devices, Microsoft's first example is vertical: The vendor said the Percept Vision camera could be mounted over an assembly line, to identify malformed vegetables or other goods and distinguish them from other product. Although it’s designed to work in conjunction with the cloud, the Azure Percept platform has enough computing power to be able to function independently.
Microsoft said it was working with third-party silicon makers and equipment manufacturers to establish the new ecosystem of edge devices.
“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,” said Roanne Sones, corporate vice president of Edge and Platform Group at Microsoft, in a blog post. “But they can envision it in any kind of responsible form factor to cover a pattern of the world.”
The other piece of the puzzle, according to Microsoft, was leveraging the company’s Power platform. The hallmark feature of PowerApps is its low-code or even no-code platform, allowing users to string together building blocks of programming without knowing a language. Microsoft said its goal was to lower the technical bar to develop on the new edge devices.
If you’ve been following Microsoft, you know the company loves platforms as much as, or more so, than products - from Minecraft to Microsoft Teams. Microsoft’s direct involvement with consumer products like the Invoke speaker may have come to an end, but now it's inviting others to step in and take their turn.