Last week, Intel was out in force at the Moscone Center in San Francisco giving developers and the world a view of the future of computing and their role in it. Intel clearly doesn’t want to miss the wave around IoT and connected things, and its New Technology Group (NTG) is leading the company’s efforts in these areas, headed by veteran Intel executive Josh Walden. NTG includes groups like Intel Labs, the Perceptual Computing Group, the New Business Initiatives organization, and the New Devices Group (NDG). NDG was previously an independent group that focused on wearables, among other areas. With the reorganization that occurred in April of this year, wearables is now part of a larger effort to have Intel become the driving force behind connected objects and sensory computing.
At IDF 2015, Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, alluded to three key assumptions in his keynote – sensification of computing with more sensors everywhere, smart and connected objects, and computing becoming an extension of you. One can argue that these aren’t really assumptions, but fundamental pillars of Intel’s strategy going forward, which are playing out in real time as technology develops and users start engaging with it for tangible applications. While Intel has talked about each of these areas in the past, its possibly the the first time that we are seeing them being presented as a part of a larger singular narrative.
Intel is using its tiny, low-power Curie and Edison chipsets to realize a large part of this new strategy, as it enters a brave new world where hardware is getting commoditized and open sourced. Curie, announced at CES 2015, is Intel’s flagship low-power chip for wearables, also known as the Edison for wearables. At IDF 2015, Intel announced Fossil as a partner that is launching an Android Wear smart watch using Curie. Intel also used IDF to speak about its role in enabling the Maker Movement, and how it wants to become a key partner to the hobbyists and tinkerers that are experimenting and innovating in their garages. For example, there was a Skittles sorting machine on display that used the Curie chip to sort candies by color. There was also a BMX bike on stage with an embedded Curie chip that provided various real-time metrics. The big highlight of the show was an army of Curie-powered robotic spiders that Krzanich was able to control using a bracelet-like device.
The big showcase at IDF, however, was RealSense, which is the cornerstone for the company’s “sensification” push. RealSense is Intel’s 3D sensing and depth perception technology. RealSense will be available in tablets, laptops, and smartphones, providing new depth sensing and imaging capabilities that could have applications in gaming, entertainment, communications, virtual reality, retail, 3D scanning, and others. Intel demonstrated a collaboration of RealSense with Google’s Project Tango to create a 3D map of a room. Essentially, Intel is showing its RealSense hardware and middleware talking to Tango’s 3D mapping software. Google has been mostly showing Tango with NVIDIA processors in its development kit. There were other demos including RealSense cameras being used in a retail setting to try on different clothes, or use a 3D image of yourself in an online videoconference to make it more immersive.
Intel also talked about its IoT platform that offers a turnkey solution, bringing together connectivity, intelligence, security, and privacy aspects for commercial applications. As a part of the IoT platform, Intel demoed a RealSense-powered vending machine that can determine a user’s age and gender and be operated using hand gestures. While one could argue that IoT encompasses everything that Intel is trying to do, the company is trying to create a distinction between its push to Makers that can produce a Skittle sorter and an enterprise-grade IoT vending machine solution, where the data can be sent to the cloud securely to be analyzed, for the purpose of improving business decisions. Speaking of commercial applications, Intel also showcased a robot butler from Savioke, which uses Intel RealSense cameras to navigate and deliver items to guests in hotels.
Overall, Intel is placing bets on a number of areas including IoT, wearables, robotics and sensory computing, as it fights to remain relevant in a slumping PC market, and a mobile market that is owned by Qualcomm. While there are rumors floating of Intel buying up Qualcomm’s chip division, Intel desperately needs one of its bets on new markets to pay off soon.