Microsoft and Sony to create smart camera solutions for AI-enabled image sensor

Sony's image sensor will have Microsoft Azure artificial intelligence capabilities.

Sony develops first image sensor combined with AI chip
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Sony and Microsoft have joined together to create artificial intelligence-powered (AI) smart camera solutions to make it easier for enterprise customers to perform video analytics, the companies announced.

The companies will embed Microsoft Azure AI capabilities onto Sony's AI-enabled image sensor IMX500. Announced last week, the IMX500 is the world's first image sensor to contain a pixel chip and logic chip. The logic chip, called Sony's digital signal processor, is dedicated to AI signal processing, along with memory for the AI model. 

"Video analytics and smart cameras can drive better business insights and outcomes across a wide range of scenarios for businesses," said Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president and commercial chief marketing officer at Microsoft. 

"Through this partnership, we're combining Microsoft's expertise in providing trusted, enterprise-grade AI and analytics solutions with Sony's established leadership in the imaging sensors market to help uncover new opportunities for our mutual customers and partners."

Sony and Microsoft also announced that they will create a smart camera managed app powered by Azure Internet of Things (IoT) and cognitive services that it hopes to use alongside the IMX500 sensor to provide new video analytics use cases for enterprise customers. 

According to Sony, the app will allow independent software vendors (ISVs) and smart camera original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop AI models, thereby enabling them to create their own customer and industry-specific video analytics and computer vision solutions that use the IMX500 image sensor.

The Azure-powered app is catered toward ISVs specialising in computer vision and video analytics solutions, as well as OEMs, the companies said.  

When Sony unveiled the IMX500 last week, it said users could write their own AI models into the sensor's embedded memory.

"For example, when multiple cameras employing this product are installed in a retail location, a single type of camera can be used with versatility across different locations, circumstances, times, or purposes," Sony said at the time.

"When installed at the entrance to the facility it can be used to count the number of visitors entering the facility; when installed on the shelf of a store it can be used to detect stock shortages; when on the ceiling it can be used for heat mapping store visitors (detecting locations where many people gather), and the like." 

Microsoft and Sony added that they also have plans to work with enterprise customers later this year in the areas of computer vision and video analytics as part of Microsoft's AI & IoT Insider Labs program.

The partnership follows Microsoft and Sony announcing last year that they would explore the joint development of Azure-based gaming and content-streaming services. As part of a memorandum of understanding, the two said they would look into potential collaborative projects involving Sony's image sensors and Microsoft's Azure AI technology.     

Despite the novel coronavirus outbreak affecting supply chains around the world, Sony said in March that its imaging and sensing solutions segment has continued to operate without any "material impact". 

It did note, however, that there was a potential risk for sensor sales to be impacted by an eventual slowdown in the smartphone market from COVID-19 and that its electronics business had been hampered by supply chain issues arising from the outbreak.

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