Intel crams 100 GFLOPS of neural-net inferencing onto a USB stick

— 5:00 PM on July 20, 2017

It's been a couple years since Intel floored an old friend of ours with a computer miniaturized to the size of a disappointingly-small candy bar. Today, Intel announced a new type of compute stick, but this one isn't designed to replace your desktop computer. Instead, the Movidius Neural Compute Stick provides deep neural network processing inside a self-contained, low-power package.

As the product's name suggests, the Neural Compute Stick was made possible by technology from Movidius, a company that Intel acquired last September. The device contains one of Movidius's Vision Processing Units, which power the company's low-power machine vision devices. The Neural Compute Stick consumes so little power that it merely needs to be plugged into a USB 3.0 port, yet Intel claims that it provides more than 100 gigaflops of performance. This allows the device to handle AI inference applications without being connected to a network.

Developers using the Neural Compute Stick will still need to do algorithm training on much more powerful equipment, but these diminutive sticks will allow them to perform inference anywhere that real-world data needs to be interpreted. With a convolutional neural network from a deep-learning framework like Caffe, users can quickly put machine-learning capabilities into low-power devices. From its promotional materials, Intel seems to think that one of these sticks would do interesting things inside of a drone. And if one stick alone doesn't provide enough processing power, a simple USB hub can be used to harness the capability of a couple more.

Intel plans to show off the Neural Compute Stick at the upcoming conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition starting on Saturday. Those interested can already purchase these devices through one of Intel's partners for the strikingly reasonable price of $79.

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