A.I. in Your Pocket: Intel Announces Second-Gen Neural Compute Stick

Intel acquired Movidius in 2016 to bolster its artificial intelligence efforts. A year later, Movidius introduced its first Neural Compute Stick, which offered access to a Myriad 2 vision processing unit (VPU) in the form of a USB 3.0 stick. Now the company has released the Neural Compute Stick 2 with the improved Myriad X VPU to make it even easier for developers to accelerate machine learning applications while they're on the go.

The Neural Compute Stick 2 debuted at Intel's inaugural artificial intelligence developer conference in Beijing. The company said this second-generation utility is "designed to build smarter AI algorithms and for prototyping computer vision at the network edge."  It's not the only thing debuting at the conference--Intel also revealed Cascade Lake processors, the Intel Arria 10 FPGA, and the Intel Nervana Neural Network Processor.

This ultra-intelligent USB stick is the easiest product for conference attendees to bring home, though, and is supposed to make it easier for developers to prototype Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It's kinda like being given the Hershey's kiss of Intel's AI efforts with the hopes that you'll eat an entire bar (or even buy one of those novelty three-pound monstrosities) later. Intel explained the effect of the first gen of this morsel:

"The first-generation Intel Neural Compute Stick sparked an entire community of AI developers into action with a form factor and price that didn't exist before. We're excited to see what the community creates next with the strong enhancement to compute power enabled with the new Intel Neural Compute Stick 2." That's according to Intel's Naveen Rao, the corporate vice president and general manager of the AI Products Group.

Intel also said the first Neural Compute Stick "fueled a community of tens of thousands of developers, has been featured in more than 700 developer videos, and has been utilized in dozens of research papers." The company was less keen on sharing the Neural Compute Stick 2's specs--we know it offers up to 8x the performance of its predecessor, uses the new VPU, and works with the Intel Distribution of the OpenVINO toolkit.

The Neural Compute Stick 2 is available now from RS Components in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia; Switch Sciences in Japan; JD.com in China; and Mouser worldwide for $99. (Intel didn't offer prices for local currencies, and the Neural Compute Stick 2 isn't online at time of writing.) We expect the company to offer more information, such as the stick's technical specs, when the Neural Compute Stick 2 leaves the Beijing conference.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.