The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have some of the best cameras available on a smartphone. They’re so good that they let a mediocre photographer like me take some pretty stunning shots. Part of that is due to the high-quality image sensors. Part comes from Google’s software which helps with everything from image stabilization to HDR processing.
But it turns out the cameras have a previously undisclosed ace up their sleeves: a custom co-processor called Pixel Visual Core.
It’s the first custom co-processor Google has designed for a consumer product, and right now it’s exclusively available in Pixel 2 phones. At launch, it helps enhance photos taken using the stock camera app. But Google plans to let third-party applications make use of Pixel Visual Core soon.
The coprocessor features 8 custom cores capable of performing 3 trillion operations per second. That means the Pixel 2 can process HDR+ photos 5 times faster than a device without the chip, while using 10 percent of the energy.
Google plans to launch a developer preview of Android 8.1 Oreo “in the coming weeks,” and it’ll enable developer support for Pixel Visual Core. Eventually the company says any third-party app that uses the Android Camera API will be able to take advantage of Pixel Visual Core to enable the same HDR+ features in their apps.
But since the chip is programmable, it’s not limited to processing HDR+ photos. Google says more applications that take advantage of the coprocessor are on the way, including “machine learning and imaging applications.”