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Intel Developer Forum: Out of the server room and onto smart devices

Augmented reality and building intelligence into IoT endpoints were among the highlights at Intel’s annual conference

Intel has moved beyond the datacentre into the world of smart devices and the internet of things (IoT).

At its annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, the chipmaker showcased the work it was doing to build an ecosystem around emerging technologies.

Intel has set its sights on smart devices and augmented reality, with an eye on business applications, manaufacturing and industrial technology.

The technology on show included Project Alloy, for augmented reality, and Intel Joule, a device to power IoT.

Intel also disclosed partnerships with Microsoft, BMW and General Electric (GE) that will see its chips extend beyond datacentres and PCs.

“We’re transforming into a company that powers the cloud and smart, connected devices,” said Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich.

However, this is not something that Intel can do on its own, he added, and would require collaboration with industry partners and Intel’s developer community, more than 6,000 of whom were in attendance at IDF 2016.

Project Alloy is touted as integrated augmented reality, which combines processing and sensors directly into the headset itself. Intel hopes this integration would enable it to be used anywhere and not limited to dedicated virtual reality suites.

The head-mounted device provides six degrees of freedom for the user to move around, tracking their motion and able to sense the position of the user’s hands to allow them to interact with a virtual environment.

Krzanich said Intel will provide open application programming interfaces (APIs) for Alloy, and will also open source the hardware in 2017 to enable third parties to build their own products around it.

Intel partners with Microsoft

Intel is working closely with long-time partner Microsoft on specifications for what it calls “mixed reality” Windows PCs and devices.

Krzanich was joined on stage by Microsoft’s executive-vice president for Windows and Devices, Terry Myerson, who said the Windows 10 operating system will be updated in 2017 with a Windows Holographic shell as part of this.

In a demonstration of the technology, Intel showed how Alloy could be used to mix 2D and 3D applications, enabling the user to see and interact with traditional Windows applications displayed on vertical surfaces in a virtual environment.

While this is not entirely new – Microsoft gave a similar demo for its HoloLens product in 2015 – the partnership will allow augmented reality applications to run well even on mainstream PC hardware, said Intel.

“We realised we could optimise hardware and software together. Our vision was aligning with that of Microsoft, so we made this ground-breaking partnership,” said Krzanich.

The Joule in the crown

Intel Joule is a computer module aimed at IoT applications that combines an Intel Atom processor with wireless connectivity and the firm’s RealSense depth-sensing camera technology. The company claims this makes it ideal for computer vision, robotics, drones and industrial applications.

As an example of the latter, Intel said it could be worn by workers in manufacturing industries and used to monitor tasks they are performing for quality control purposes.

BMW is among the industry partners hoping to develop Joule-based products. The carmaker said it is aiming to bring a fully autonomous car to market by 2021.

To make this possible, you “need a supercomputer in the car,” according to Elmar Frickenstein, senior vice-president for Automated Driving at BMW.

“Outside the car, you need a high performance cloud system to help with things such as swarm intelligence and route planning, plus a 5G network to enable exchange of data between cloud and car,” he added.

Frickenstein arrived on stage in a BMW car that proceeded to drive itself away after he got out.

Intelligence on devices

Intel also announced Knowledge Builder, a tool that aims to bring greater intelligence down to the device level in IoT applications, rather than relying on back-end processing in the datacentre.

Knowledge Builder lets any developer create an intelligent sensing app that runs directly on wearables based on Intel’s Curie module – a tiny system-on-a-chip – using sample data to train it.

“You can teach Curie to recognise any special movement and Knowledge Builder looks at the data and develops the matching algorithm; you push that back to Curie and it can do that in real time on the device itself,” said Krzanich.

General Electric’s (GE) chief executive, Jeff Immelt, said technology represented a huge opportunity to reverse declining industrial productivity.

“Existing IT tools and techniques are not getting that done, so you either embrace the future or find yourself not able to satisfy the needs of your customers,” he told delegates.

“The industrial world is very different to the consumer world; small changes in productivity can drive large changes in outcome for customers,” he said. “So we’re going to work together to do what we can do to drive greater efficiency for the industrial internet.”

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