This Huawei phone is smart enough to drive a Porsche
Huawei revs up a phone-powered self-driving car to demonstrate the artificial intelligence prowess of its Mate 10 Pro phone.
Roger ChengFormer Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
I'm strapped into the shotgun seat of a
Panamera, parked in a lot just outside FC Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium. My chauffeur for the afternoon:
Mate 10 Pro
You read that right. A phone will be driving this car.
No, Huawei isn't getting into the autonomous car business. The Chinese telecom giant set up this experiment to show off the processing prowess of the flagship phone's Kirin 970 chip, which features an
Watch this: Huawei's Mate 10 Pro drives this Porsche so I don't have to
"This is purely a showcase of what the phone today is capable of," said Arne Herkelmann, European head of handset portfolio and planning for Huawei.
Alongside buzzwords like 5G and augmented reality, AI stands as one of the key themes for the
Mobile World Congress
trade show here. The mobile industry has taken its cue from the success of digital assistants like
Alexa and is touting smarter networks and devices.
unveiled a revamped flagship called the LG V30S, which added extra memory and AI capabilities.
talked about the role of AI in all the traffic flowing through faster 5G networks.
Chief Technology Officer Hans Vestberg said in an interview that he sees AI -- the power behind computer programs that can learn and adapt on their own -- being useful for detecting and automatically repairing problems with the network.
In November, Huawei unveiled the Mate 10 Pro and the vaunted AI engine in the Kirin 970. The company began selling the phone in the US in February, although without a carrier partner.
Herkelmann said that since the launch, he'd been inundated with questions about how exactly its AI works. MWC 2018 presented a chance to show off those capabilities.
Enter the road reader challenge. The company wanted to see if the phone was smart enough to recognize objects like a dog, a soccer ball or a person on a bicycle and tell the car to maneuver away. (Don't worry. The company used cardboard stand-ins.) The engine was fed more than 1 million images and can recognize 1,000 objects.
Autonomous driving, DIY style
Huawei spent five weeks putting this project together -- and you could kind of tell.
There was no polished self-driving car that you would find from Alphabet's Waymo unit or Uber's autonomous fleet. Missing were any sophisticated radars and depth sensors.
Huawei chose the Panamera because it wasn't already a self-driving car. The company's engineers mounted a high-speed camera on the roof, which provided a constant video feed to the phone of everything in front of the car. They also rigged up simple robots to help control the gas, brake and steering wheel.
A developer called Kerve created an app with a simple user interface, allowing you to tap a button on the phone to get the car going.
I had come into this thinking that the car would go along a curvy track. But instead it was set to accelerate down a simple straight path for roughly 100 feet. Considering how slowly we were going, it almost felt like a waste of a good Porsche.
Herkelmann said Huawei could have taught the phone to drive the car around corners or on different roads, but it would have take more time and space than the company had.
What was it like?
I had a chance to ride through the course twice. The first time was a practice run, in which the car moved at 5 miles per hour. Employees at the other end rushed to the road with cardboard obstacles at random times and locations, and you could see through the app on the Mate 10 Pro that it was able to determine whether the object was a soccer ball or a dog.
Once the car got a few feet away from a dog, it abruptly stopped.
Before beginning the next run, you choose how you'd like to avoid specific objects (swerve to the right, turn to the left or brake).
Fortunately, the second time offered a little more pop. The Panamera jumped to about 30 mph, and when it got close to a man and a bicycle, swerved to the right.