Watch: Inside a Porsche driven by a Huawei smartphone

27 Feb 2018443 Views

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Porsche Panamera converted into a self-driving car using a Huawei Mate 10 Pro smartphone. Image: John Kennedy

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John Kennedy agreed to jump in a car driven by a Huawei Mate 10 Pro at Mobile World Congress. What could possibly go wrong?

As the ‘Beast from the East’ creeps closer, Barcelona’s skies went from characteristic azure to gunmetal grey and we shivered under the eaves of the iconic Camp Nou stadium to check out a different kind of beast.

The occasion was the test of a Porsche Panamera, which was converted into a self-driving car that would use the brains of a smartphone to recognise objects such as footballs and living creatures such as humans and dogs.

The idea was concocted just five weeks previously, no doubt to demonstrate the Huawei Mate 10 Pro’s AI capabilities driven by its neural processing unit (NPU).

It was my first experience of a self-driving car and I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous, instead japing about the place like a giddy schoolboy.

The demo consisted of a self-driving rig in the car’s boot, a smartphone rigged to the dashboard and, just between the seats, a big red stop button that would apply the brakes in case anything went wrong.

It was pretty crude but effective when you consider it was an idea cooked up just a few weeks earlier. The demo simply consisted of the kind of actions you wanted it to take – for example, if it saw a dog, a human or a ball, you could swerve left, brake or swerve right.

After an initial test run, I inputted the actions and the car took off at 40mph, deftly swerving the obstacles.

The experience was pretty much over as soon as it began, but here I was sitting in a car, using the eyes of a camera that was using an AI chip not to crash into things. I was impressed.

Peter Gaurden, senior product marketing manager at Huawei Technologies, explained that the app driving the vehicle was created by third-party developer Kurve.

“Because autonomous cars can recognise obstacles but don’t recognise what they are, we are using the power of image recognition on the NPU to educate the app to recognise a dog, for example.

“We fed a database of 1,000 images that could be recognised.”

A machine driven by a machine

Gaurden explained how, using a camera on the car – which was connected by cable to the Mate 10 Pro using the app and User Datagram Protocol – the car and the camera worked in sync with the phone, with the latter telling the car what to do if obstacles it recognised appeared.

In effect, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro has become the first AI-enabled phone to drive a car.

“Similar to the Microsoft Translator app that uses the AI processor to communicate in 50-plus languages, the NPU is doing the same thing after five weeks of development.”

However, do not expect a Huawei self-driving car any time soon.

“We are not entering the car business,” Gaurden said emphatically.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com