IDF Research Day: Monitors and Mesh

By Loyd Case  |  Posted 2003-02-21 Print this article Print

Intel Labs rolls out "macro-convergence" and mesh networks to cap off its week-long IDF show.

Intel Developer Forum had traditionally closed with sneak peeks into Intels research efforts. Were not talking a specific product area -- i.e., researching 90nm technology in order to build a CPU. Rather, Intel unveils research initiatives that are more far-flung. Some are clearly efforts to develop additional business opportunities, while others simply explore possibilities that might or might not lead to additional products. Pat Gelsinger, Intel VP and Chief Technology Officer delivered the keynote address that kicked off research day. Gelsingers general theme was the leap from what he called "microconvergence" to "macroconvergence". Microconvergence is simply a restatement of the overall theme of this IDF -- melding computing and communications. Macroconvergence is taking these technologies and applying them to real-world applications areas beyond those traditionally thought of as computing applications -- in other words, the convergence between disparate industries.
One key example of this is healthcare. One interesting demographic statistic, as noted in Mark Hachmans news piece on the keynote (,3973,899835,00.asp), is that 30% of the population worldwide would be over 60 by the year 2050. However, hitting closer to home, another point made was that many baby boomers would be spending more money and time taking care of aging parents than they would spend putting their kids through college. By the same token, senior citizens want to avoid nursing homes and maintain their independence for as long as possible.
To this end, pervasive, context-aware, location-aware computing and networking might play key roles in this arena. Gelsinger demonstrated a slightly different twist on the "living room of the future". This version had sensors placed in televisions, telephones and furniture (i.e., the couch). In addition, infrared cameras placed such that stereoscopic images could be generated of people walking in the area were mounted near the "ceiling". The idea is not to invade the privacy of the people living there, but to monitor their health and well-being. One example was the ability for a smart application using stochastic pattern recognition to detect when someone changes their gait significantly, perhaps indicating a physical problem just beginning to crop up before anyone is aware of it. Of course, privacy is an issue, though Intel dealt with it rather glibly -- is it better to live with all these sensors monitoring you, or live in a nursing home? Of course, its not a binary choice by any means, and care will need to be taken to assure security and privacy issues. After all, you could postulate a situation where sensors report an emerging cancer in your body, and your company canceling your health insurance before your aware of the situation. In the end, though, such pervasive communications and computing technologies could reduce healthcare costs and improve quality of life if properly handled.

Loyd Case came to computing by way of physical chemistry. He began modestly on a DEC PDP-11 by learning the intricacies of the TROFF text formatter while working on his master's thesis. After a brief, painful stint as an analytical chemist, he took over a laboratory network at Lockheed in the early 80's and never looked back. His first 'real' computer was an HP 1000 RTE-6/VM system.

In 1988, he figured out that building his own PC was vastly more interesting than buying off-the-shelf systems ad he ditched his aging Compaq portable. The Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive from his first homebrew rig is still running today. Since then, he's done some programming, been a systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard, worked in technical marketing in the workstation biz, and even dabbled in 3-D modeling and Web design during the Web's early years.

Loyd was also bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, and even has dim memories of reading his creative efforts to his third grade class. Later, he wrote for various user group magazines, culminating in a near-career ending incident at his employer when a humor-impaired senior manager took exception at one of his more flippant efforts. In 1994, Loyd took on the task of writing the first roundup of PC graphics cards for Computer Gaming World -- the first ever written specifically for computer gamers. A year later, Mike Weksler, then tech editor at Computer Gaming World, twisted his arm and forced him to start writing CGW's tech column. The gaming world -- and Loyd -- has never quite recovered despite repeated efforts to find a normal job. Now he's busy with the whole fatherhood thing, working hard to turn his two daughters into avid gamers. When he doesn't have his head buried inside a PC, he dabbles in downhill skiing, military history and home theater.

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