Intel CEO Wows CES Audience With Drone, VR, Tech Demonstrations

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich gave CES attendees a peek at several product development efforts including the latest advances in virtual reality, autonomous aircraft and quantum computing.

Intel CES Keynote

It’s hard to believe the CEO of Intel could give a keynote speech without mentioning its latest CPUs models to power the world’s desktop and notebooks PCs.

Brian Krzanich’s CES 2018 keynote in Las Vegas focused on how Intel is helping to power a new generation of data-driven services, drones and self-driving cars that the company is counting on to drive its future growth.

The biggest surprise came near the end of the January 8 evening event when Krzanich invited the CEO of Volocopter to show off the company’s autonomous multi-rotor helicopter. First the audience saw a video of Krzanich himself flying inside the Volocopter in a hanger in Germany. Then the plane briefly flew solo inside the auditorium, though Krzanich said safety concerns given the confined venue limited how much it could do during the demonstration.

This was one of several new technologies shown during Krzanich’s keynote. However, Krzanich kicked off his CES presentation more somberly with a brief statement about the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities that make systems powered by chips produced by Intel chips and other manufacturers vulnerable exploits by hackers. Meltdown affects Intel CPUs specifically, while Spectre affects all modern CPUs.

“At Intel, security is job number one. Our primary focus has been to keep our customer’s data safe,” said Krzanich. To date, he said Intel hasn’t received any reports from customers that any systems have been compromised. He also said Intel is working to address the issue and that the collaboration between companies across several processor architectures has been “incredible”.

He suggested the best course of action for users is to apply any all updates from their operating system vendors and computer manufacturer immediately.

Krzanich spent more than an hour, joined by partners, giving demonstrations of Intel-powered systems and services covering a wide-range of industries from professional sports and so-called e-sports (videogame tournaments), to autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and the first public showing of Intel’s Shooting Star Mini, a small drone designed specifically for use indoors.

As many as 100 Star Minis can be controlled by a single PC. For his keynote finale, Krzanich had a hundred Star Minis light up the darkened auditorium, performing an elaborate light show. After the demonstration Krzanich announced the audience had just witnessed the setting of a Guinness Book of World Record for the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously indoors under computer control.

Several demonstrations showed how virtual reality will bring big changes to the way sports fans experience events. “Within Intel we have several different technologies to create immersive experiences,” said Krzanich.

For example, Intel’s new True VR technology will be used during next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea as well as during the National Football League playoff games. True VR uses hundreds of high definition Ultra HD cameras to divide a playing field into billions of data points Intel calls voxels (like a pixel in three-dimensional space) that enable a 360-degree view of any scene.

“When these images are all stitched together, fans can pick the view they want and pick the best seat in the house at any time,” said Krzanich. “The results have been stunning and we’re just getting started.”

“I think this could be the primary way fans watch our sport in the future,” said Jeff Marsilio, vice president of global media for the National Basketball Association.

Other demonstrations showed how movie studios can use True VR to give viewers the option to see parts of a film from the perspective of different characters. In one scene of a movie western, the viewer was able to see the action from the perspective of one of the horses ridden by a cowboy.

In a tease of advances still to come, Krzanich and Intel researchers discussed work the company is doing in both “neuromorphic” and quantum computing. Neuromorphic computing uses digital circuits to mimic how the brain processes information.

“This has been a major research effort by Intel and today we have a fully functioning neuromorphic research chip,” said Krzanich. The chip, code-named Loihi, could enable such things as smarter security cameras and real-time communication with autonomous vehicles to adapt to traffic patterns and other incidents.

As for quantum computing, Krzanich announced a 49-qubit superconducting quantum test chip, an early step towards Intel’s ultimate goal of developing a complete quantum computer system.

Quantum computing is considered a major advance in computing with the potential to quickly solve problems that take today’s supercomputers months or even years to solve in such areas as drug development and climate forecasting.

“There’s quite a bit more work required than just this chip, but this is a major breakthrough in quantum computing,” said Krzanich. “We believe the biggest impact will be in material science and the discovery of new materials such as superconductors and new molecules to advance pharmaceuticals. I’m confident it will transform our lives for the better.” 

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...