Get started with Windows ML

In this tutorial, we'll build a simple UWP app that uses a trained machine learning model to recognize a numeric digit drawn by the user. This tutorial primarily focuses on how to load and use Windows ML in your app.


1. Download the sample

First, you'll need to download our MNIST_GetStarted sample from GitHub. We've provided a template with implemented XAML controls and events, including:

  • An InkCanvas to draw the digit.
  • Buttons to interpret the digit and clear the canvas.
  • Helper routines to convert the InkCanvas output to a VideoFrame.

A completed MNIST sample is also available to download from GitHub.

2. Open project in Visual Studio Preview

Launch Visual Studio Preview, and open the MNIST sample application. (If the solution is shown as unavailable, you'll need to right-click and select "Reload Project.")

Inside the solution explorer, the project has three main code files:

  • MainPage.xaml - All of our XAML code to create the UI for the InkCanvas, buttons, and labels.
  • MainPage.xaml.cs - Where our application code lives.
  • Helper.cs - Helper routines to crop and convert image formats.

Visual Studio solution explorer with project files

3. Build and run project

In the Visual Studio toolbar, change the Solution Platform from "ARM" to "x64" to run the project on your local machine.

To run the project, click the Start Debugging button on the toolbar, or press F5. The application should show an InkCanvas where users can write a digit, a "Recognize" button to interpret the number, an empty label field where the interpreted digit will be displayed as text, and a "Clear Digit" button to clear the InkCanvas.

Application screenshot

Note: If you downloaded a Build higher than 17110, then you might need to change the project's deployment target version. Under the project solution, go to Properties. In the Application tab, set the target version to match your OS and SDK.

4. Download a model

Next, let's get a machine learning model to add to our app. For this tutorial, we'll use a pre-trained MNIST model that was trained with the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK) and exported to ONNX format.

If you are using the MNIST_GetStarted sample from GitHub, the MNIST model has already been included in your Assets folder, and you will need to add it to your application as an existing item. You can also download the pre-trained model from the ONNX Model Zoo on GitHub.

If you're interested in training your own model, you can follow this tutorial that we used to train this MNIST model.

5. Add the model

After downloading the MNIST model, right click on the Assets folder in the Solution Explorer, and select "Add > Existing Item". Point the file picker to the location of your ONNX model, and click add.

The project should now have two new files:

  • MNIST.onnx - your trained model.
  • MNIST.cs - the Windows ML generated code.

Solution explorer with new files

To make sure the model builds when we compile our application, right click on the mnist.onnx file, and select Properties. For Build Action, select Content.

Now, let's take a look at the newly generated code in the MNIST.cs file. We have three classes:

  • MNISTModel creates the machine learning model representation, binds the specific inputs and outputs to model, and evaluates the model asynchronously.
  • MNISTModelInput initializes the input types that the model expects. In this case, the input expects a VideoFrame.
  • MNISTModelOutput initializes the types that the model will output. In this case, the output will be a list called "classLabel" of type <long> and a Dictionary called "prediction" of type <long, float>

We'll now use these classes to load, bind, and evaluate the model in our project.

6. Load, bind, and evaluate the model

For Windows ML applications, the pattern we want to follow is: Load > Bind > Evaluate.

  • Load the machine learning model.
  • Bind inputs and outputs to the model.
  • Evaluate the model and view results.

We'll use the interface code generated in MNIST.cs to load, bind, and evaluate the model in our app.

First, in MainPage.xaml.cs, let's instantiate the model, inputs, and outputs.

namespace MNIST_Demo
	public sealed partial class MainPage : Page
	    private MNISTModel ModelGen = new MNISTModel();
	    private MNISTModelInput ModelInput = new MNISTModelInput();
	    private MNISTModelOutput ModelOutput = new MNISTModelOutput();

Then, in LoadModel(), we'll load the model.

private async void LoadModel()
    //Load a machine learning model
    StorageFile modelFile = await StorageFile.GetFileFromApplicationUriAsync(new Uri($"ms-appx:///Assets/MNIST.onnx"));
    ModelGen = await MNISTModel.CreateMNISTModel(modelFile);

Next, we want to bind our inputs and outputs to the model.

In this case, our model is expecting an input of type VideoFrame. Using our included helper functions in helper.cs, we will copy the contents of the InkCanvas, convert it to type VideoFrame, and bind it to our model.

private async void recognizeButton_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
     //Bind model input with contents from InkCanvas
     ModelInput.Input3 = await helper.GetHandWrittenImage(inkGrid);

For output, we simply call EvaluateAsync() with the specified input. Since the model returns a list of digits with a corresponding probability, we need to parse the returned list to determine which digit had the highest probability and display that one.

private async void recognizeButton_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
    //Bind model input with contents from InkCanvas
    ModelInput.Input3 = await helper.GetHandWrittenImage(inkGrid);
    //Evaluate the model
    ModelOutput = await ModelGen.EvaluateAsync(ModelInput);
    //Iterate through evaluation output to determine highest probability digit
    float maxProb = 0;
    int maxIndex = 0;
    for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        if (ModelOutput.Plus214_Output_0[i] > maxProb)
            maxIndex = i;
            maxProb = ModelOutput.Plus214_Output_0[i];
    numberLabel.Text = maxIndex.ToString();

Finally, we'll want to clear out the InkCanvas to allow users to draw another number.

private void clearButton_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
    numberLabel.Text = "";

7. Launch the app

Once we build and launch the app, we'll be able to recognize a number drawn on the InkCanvas.

complete app

8. Next steps

That's it - you've made your first Windows ML app! For more samples that demonstrate how to use Windows ML, check out Sample apps.