Intel Looks Beyond PCs to the IOT and…BMX Bikes?

Intel Looks Beyond PCs to the IOT and…BMX Bikes?


SAN FRANCISCO—The oldest technology is new again, Intel seemed to be saying at the keynote address that kicked off the Intel Developer Forum here Tuesday morning.

An elaborate (and enormous) Rube Goldberg machine filled the stage, and when activated, it produced (with the help of myriad platforms, levers, and bowling balls) three clear-plastic bubbles containing the letters I, D, and F that floated through the audience to the thundrous strains of heavy metal-infused snippets from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Before your eyes, a complex past was giving way to a chillingly easy future.

It was the ideal opening scene of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s address, which he began by declaring, in acknowledgment of the juxtaposition, “This year we want to push further than ever before.” The remainder of the two-hour event, which featured Krzanich and a number of his colleagues at Intel and other companies, expanded on this idea, using as their anchor the three assumptions that Krzanich insisted defined Intel’s forward direction: The sensification of computing; the opportunity for everything to become smart and connected; and computing becoming an extension of you.

Krzanich at IDF

For the first, Krzanich stressed that sound needs to be central to the development of computing. No longer are people content hearing beeps, boops, and whistles like those that have defined computing for decades—people want computers that listen to and respond to them.

Krzanich’s coworker, Craig, demonstrated how a sixth-generation CoreWindows 10 PC can use digital signal processing (DSP) to wake with a simple voice command when it’s in a low-power state. Once the system was on, Cortana, played a critical role, telling a joke (“Why didn’t the spider go to school? Because she learned everything she needed to know on the Web.”) and then played Craig’s music collection.

The qualities of sound fit right in with instantaneous response, Krzanich continued. When you touch a button or a screen, as on a virtual piano keyboard, you want to hear a sound right away and not experience a delay. Krzanich explained how Intel and Google worked to reduce audio latency in Android Lollipop.

Sight was next, with Intel’s RealSense camera technology at the heart of it all. RealSense, Krzanich said, harnesses the quality of human sight to make all sorts of devices better. Smartphones, for example, benefit by gaining the capability of 3D scanning: By integrating RealSense withGoogle’s Project Tango, you could mesh an entire room’s worth of content with a single quick scan, giving you an easy way to model even the most complex spaces. Craig’s demonstration showed not only that the results could be incedibly detailed, but the software could simultaneously detect the exact motion of the phone through the air while scanning.

Another use of RealSense: a virtual butler named Relay, developed by Savioke. The robot, which resembled a wheeled cooler, is designed to deliver items from, say, the front desk of a hotel to the room of the person who requested it—including elevators and hallways. RealSense gives Relay the opportunity to determine the positioning of people and objects around it, which must be done in real time, not minutes or even seconds later. “We believe the robotics industry is on the brink of a transformation here,” Krzanich said, after Relay rolled on to deliver him a Diet Coke.

You may not consider computer gaming a sense along the lines of smell or taste, but Krzanich did, explaining that it’s a fully immersive experience that is evolving more every year. By combining sensors and high-end hardware, Krzanich said, you can play intense games without stuttering or being nudged out of the game’s world. A giant racecar rig positioned onstage showed how a playing “driver” could transport himself entirely to a track with three oversize displays and a RealSense camera—all powered by Intel’s sixth-generation Core processor, of course.

Krzanich segued into his second assumption, about the world becoming smart and connected. This would have an impact on everything, he said, even something as simple as looking in a mirror. A woman named Marcy paraded onstage clad in a white jacket and stood before a giant flat screen with a mirrorlike display in it. She explained how the screen makes it possible to try on a piece of clothing, such as that jacket, and literally see how it will look on you in different colors; you can even “split” the display in three dimensions, to compare how different colors will look on you at the same time. (This Memory Mirror device is currently in use in three Nieman Marcus stores, including the one in San Francisco, and will expand later this year.)

IDF 2015 CarseatSuch technology also has the potential to save lives, as Marcy showed when she returned to the stage a few minutes later, an almost-toddler-size baby in tow. Marcy clamped the child into a car seat, which was equipped with a clip that causes your smartphone to emit an alarm whenever you get out of range, so there’s no way you can accidentally leave your child in the car. More frivolous applications are possible, too: Craig stepped up to an N&W vending machine that can dispense drinks and snacks by way of a RealSense camera, all without your having to touch it. (This could also be useful in other applications where direct touch may not be desirable, such as a hospital.)

The platform for such developments is not enough, however. Enhanced Privacy Identification (EPID) is a new Intel initiative intended to shore up security in the Internet of Things (IoT), and is slated to be introduced in sensors and microcontrollers from vendors such as Atmel and Microchip. And there need to be people contributing to it, as the IoT Developer Program, launched at last year’s IDF, continues to attract new people who are creating new devices.

If the IoT involves devices becoming even more ubiquitous in our lives, it made for an apt lead-in for Krzanich’s final assumption: that computing is becoming an extension of you. And that all starts with wearables. Greg McKelvey, executive vice president and chief strategy and marketing officerr of Fossil Group, joined Krzanich to discuss the impact of wearables onto the fashion business. His designers have developed “connected accessories”: a connected bracelet (for men and women alike), and connected watches. When the devices are useful as well as attractive, McKelvey said, he thinks the devices become must-haves. (“Like the Apple Watch” was the unstated conclusion to McKelvey’s appearance.)

Curie, the button-size SoC Intel showed off at CES, offers all sorts of new possibilities in the IoT realm. Sports, for example: They can be escorted into the Digital Age, Krzanich said, and let us see how with BMX Sensors connected to a bike that could create a real-time picture of the bike in motion (for better helping athletes train, for example, and helping audiences understand what’s going on). A dirtbike rider named Wes performed a couple of tricks, which the system could detect and analyze instantly. One was identified as a “Foot Jam Tail Spin” that Wes slightly undercorrected, but he finished off his set by jumping over Krzanich on his bike, to the (obvious) delight of the crowd.

A new SDK, called Identity IQ, might solve the “problem” of passwords with wearable authentication, Krzanich continued. A security bracelet demonstrated by another of Krzanich’s workers unlocked a Windows laptop just by walking near to it; “As long as I continuously wear this bracelet, I continuously carry this authentication with me,” she said. But you can’t just take the bracelet and get on the computer: As soon as it was removed from her wrist, the computer locked, preventing anyone else from logging on with her account.

But how does one entice and maintain those who will develop such products in the future, or who may view them as more of a hobbyist pursuit? Krzanich received some expert help in this area from Mark Burnett, the producer of such shows as Survivor, Shark Tank, and The Voice. He introduced a new initiative called America’s Greatest Makers, which will premiere in the first half of 2016 and offer a $1 million prize for inventing technologies that use the Curie module.

Mark Burnett and Kraznich

Krzanich concluded his keynote with a traditional glimpse into the future, and the technologies we’re likely to see in years to come. Some of these have already been announced or demonstrated, such as 3D Xpoint nonvolatile memory, which is being combined with a memory controller, interface hardware, and software to fashion a new line of high-performance solid-state drives (SSDs) in 2016, and DIMMs (aimed at data center platforms) further still down the line. Krzanich promised five to seven times performance increases over previous products.

The future really is here, in other words. But just as the opening number demonstrated, the future is nothing without a link to the past. Krzanich played video of his spring appearance on The Tonight Showwith Jimmy Fallon, which involved him controlling a series of tiny spider robots by waving his hands. Not to be outdone by himself, he unviled a whole chorus line of them onstage, which he struggled to make work in the same way. They moved, danced, and even saluted well enough, but were outshone by their “mother”—another giant spider robot that came out onstage and all but danced Krzanich off of it.

Humans have long been afraid of spiders, but this one wasn’t scary at all. Maybe it really is true, as they say, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. One got the impression from Krzanich and his cohorts that Intel wouldn’t think that was all that bad.

Krzanich at IDF