Intel CEO Brian Krzanich promised when he took the reins of the company almost two years ago that the giant chip maker would not miss out on new industry trends the way it did with mobile computing when smartphones and tablets hit the market several years ago.
Under Krzanich, Intel has aggressively expanded its capabilities in a broad range of areas, from the Internet of things (IoT) to robotics to new PC form factors. Wearable technology also has been a focus: Soon after taking over Intel, Krzanich created the New Devices Group, and the company has since rolled out new processors and platforms aimed at IoT and wearables, partnered with retailers to design smart wearable devices, and bought and invested in companies that build these devices.
Intel this month invested $24.8 million in Vuzix, a company that makes enterprise-grade smart glasses.
At the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the CEO unveiled an array of new technologies the company is working on, with wearables being a central part of the presentation. In particular, Krzanich introduced the Curie compute module, which will serve as a development platform that device makers can use in a wide range of products, from smart bags and bracelets to watches, eyewear and jewelry.
"This changes the game of wearables," he said during his keynote address Jan. 6. "This product … can deliver wearables in a range of form factors."
Curie comes a year after Krzanich introduced Edison at last year's CES. Edison also is a development platform powered by Intel's tiny Quark system-on-a-chip (SoC) aimed at wearable and IoT devices. Throughout the last year, Intel engineers worked to make Curie smaller than Edison, he said.
The highly integrated module includes not only Intel's new, highly energy-efficient 32-bit Quark SE SoC, but also a Bluetooth low-energy radio and a low-power sensor hub that can help the module track activities. Krzanich used an app developed by Intel and run through a Curie module to track the number of steps he was taking during his keynote address. Curie also offers 348KB of flash memory.
It will be available in the second half of the year, the CEO said.
The wearable device space is expected to grow rapidly. IDC analysts last year said they expected more than 19 million units to ship in 2014, and that number to grow to 111.9 million in 2018. Intel has moved aggressively to make sure its technology is in as many of those devices as possible. Such a move makes sense to a company whose chips are found in most PCs and servers, Krzanich said.
"Wearables are a natural extension of computing," he said. "Wearables are becoming ultra-personal."
Intel over the past year has grown the number of wearables powered by its technology, from the MICA (My Intelligent Communication Accessory) smart bracelet developed with Opening Ceremonies to the BioSport smart earplugs created with SMS Audio. Krzanich said Intel has begun working with eyewear maker Oakley on a smart product for athletes that will be available later this year. Intel last year announced a partnership with Luxottica Group, and Oakley is the first company within Luxottica that the chip maker is working with.
Intel also is working with such companies as Fossil, and last year bought smart band maker Basis.
Krzanich also said that Intel will hold its second "Make It Wearable" competition this year, and at CES, showed off this year's winner. Nixie is a wearable camera that can fit on a user's wrist. When a photo opportunity arises, the user can unfold Nixie and toss it in the air, where it will hover and take a photo before returning to the user.
In other parts of his keynote address, Krzanich talked about such technologies as Intel's RealSense 3D camera and the move toward wireless computing experiences though the use of WiGi technology. He also noted that Intel is partnering with such companies as Hilton, DuPont, Marriott, San Francisco airport and Jaguar to offer wireless-charging technology.
There also were displays of Intel-powered robots and Hewlett-Packard's upcoming Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer—which is scheduled to launch next year and will be powered by Intel's Core i7 processor—and Sprout, a computer that includes an integrated project and 3D scanner that leverages such Intel technologies as RealSense.