BARCELONA—Huawei didn’t have much (read: anything) in the way of new phones to show off at Mobile World Congress this year, but it did have the RoadReader proof-of-concept; a system that leverages the AI on last year’s Mate 10 Pro phone to drive a Porsche Panamera.
The Mate 10 Pro features a chip dedicated to handling AI processes, the so-called NPU (Neural Processing Unit). Until now, one of the main benefits of this to buyers is that when you’re taking a picture of pets, for example, the NPU knows that you’re photographing a cat and adjusts things like shutter speed and sensitivity accordingly.
The RoadReader concept builds on these existing image-recognition features. The Mate 10 Pro we saw had been tweaked to recognize three things: cyclists, dogs and footballs. During the set-up process, we decided how the car would react them—swerve left or right or perform an emergency stop.
Instead of relying on the Mate 10 Pro’s own cameras, Huawei and its partners hooked it up to a 4K Sony camera supplied by creative technologists Kerve, which have previously driven cars using EEG headsets. This time around, though, it’s machine intelligence behind the wheel.
Given a new, more powerful set of eyes—the camera’s 300x zoom lens was enhanced by a doubler—the Mate 10 Pro could see and detect objects at an effective stopping distance and issue commands to the Panamera’s robotics system.
After telling the app what we wanted the car to do when it spotted certain objects, we cruised at a leisurely 5mph outside Barcelona F.C.’s Camp Nou stadium, before putting the thing into reverse and heading back in a straight line. The next time around, the speed cranked up to a slightly scary 30mph, while Huawei staff ran on to the test area and dropped a giant cardboard cutout of one of the aforementioned obstacles; watch the video below to see what happens when a “dog” was placed in our path.
“The advantage that we have is that this is all happening on the phone, no going over the cloud, no needing any network connection,” said Huawei global senior product marketing manager Peter Gauden. “There’s no latency at all, everything happens instantly.”
This is not, however, an indication that Huawei’s about to get into the increasingly crowded space of self-driving cars. “This is just us having fun, with the power of the AI on the device, and a nice car.”
As well as being fun, the demo also serves to promote Huawei’s open platform for mobile AI, which it announced at IFA last year. While Huawei says this is simply a bit of fun, when you think about the number of times you take your phones on long journeys, whether to act as navigation devices or control the playlists, it could be that mobile AI plays an increasing role in smart car control.