Enabling Edge AI – Connected World

This week we saw a big announcement that gets us further on our hybrid cloud journey—one where cloud strategies will also include edge and hybrid investments and companies can extend compute and AI (artificial intelligence) to the edge of the network.

Microsoft introduces Azure Percept at its Ignite digital conference this week, which is a platform with added security for creating Azure AI technologies and solutions on the edge. The end-to-end edge AI platform includes hardware accelerators integrated with Azure AI and IoT (Internet of Things) services and pre-built AI models—for vision capabilities including object detection, shelf analytics, vehicle analytics, and audio capabilities like voice control and anomaly detection—and solution management to help go from prototype to production in minutes. This is big news especially as companies and partners look to digital transformation with great fervor.

The goal of the Azure Percept platform is 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, according to Moe Tanabian, Microsoft vice president and GM of the Azure edge and devices group.

Sam George, corporate vice president of Azure IoT, Microsoft, even posted a comment saying, “With this comprehensive and easy-to-use platform, you can create edge AI solutions for tackling use cases like object detection, shelf analytics, or anomaly detection. Azure Percept includes hardware accelerators that integrate seamlessly with Azure AI and IoT services, as well as a library of pre-built AI models to get you started prototyping in minutes. Azure Percept helps safeguards your sensitive data and high-value models.”

George also points to other big news coming out of Ignite: the preview of Device Update for IoT Hub, which makes capabilities available from Windows Update to any IoT device, regardless of the operating system.

We know today companies need computing that can help support the vast amount of data—and they need the flexibility to do this anywhere, anyplace. The hybrid cloud environment enables remote work while still being able to capitalize on cloud innovation—all while maximizing existing on-premise investments. Azure provides a holistic and secure approach to innovate anywhere across on-premises, multicloud, and edge environments. Now, with Azure Percept, it has simplified AI on the edge.

When it comes to security, Azure Percept hardware accelerators are designed with a hardware root of trust, which interacts with a device TPM (trusted platform module) and attestation service to prove device identity and help ensure additional device security. Azure Percept also uses the Zero Trust security model. Microsoft has also designed Azure Percept in accordance with Microsoft responsible AI principles, which helps ensure all of the services are streamlined to create edge AI solutions that can adapt to customers’ needs, while ensuring customers’ trust as the edge continues to evolve.

It is also exciting to see Azure Percept DK by ASUS as a pilot-ready development kit with a carrier board, mounting tools, and Azure Percept Vision, a camera-enabled SoM (system on module) for rapid scenario-based customization. What also makes this unique is it adds camera and vision functions, which is optimized for industrial and retail settings. Think power shelf-stock analytics, people and object detection, and loss detection—just as a few examples.

And, of course, this development kit is integrated to work with Azure AI, Azure Machine Learning, and Azure IoT management services. The kit can also be extended with Azure Percept Audio.

This comes as Microsoft also unveiled Dynamics 365 updates, Power Platform updates, and a host of others. The technology giant also created Azure Arc, which is a set of technologies that extends Azure management and services to any infrastructure, and this week announces new Azure Arc innovations including expanding the services to include Azure Machine Learning, which is an enterprise-grade service that enables data scientists and developers to build, deploy, and manage machine learning models.

We also know the technical knowledge gap remains, with 47% of IoT adopters saying there are not enough skilled workers. Microsoft looks to address this as well, with Microsoft Learn, which offers free online, self-paced courses, including the Azure IoT Developer Specialty certification. The Redmond-based company is committed to narrowing the skills gap and getting more people ready for the future with more skilled workers on the tech that matters.

We know Microsoft has been busy building a comprehensive IoT portfolio, as it laid out its IoT vision and roadmap at Build 2020 last year. I suspect we will see the trend toward connected environments and the focus on connected ecosystems continue, as Microsoft positions itself to help its customers innovate well into the future. Microsoft is committed to a sustainable future and this is all just one giant step to getting us there.

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