Intel CTO Justin Rattner Talks Photonics, Mobility at IDF

Justin Rattner, Intel's CTO, is planning to talk during the Intel Developer Forum about the developments underway at Intel's research laboratories and how Intel sees technology developing during the next 40 years. At the Intel Developer Forum, Rattner is planning to discuss Intel's vision for photonics replacing traditional copper wiring in processors and where Intel sees the marriage of the mobile and embedded devices market.

SAN FRANCISCO-In the next 40 years, Intel is planning to develop a range of new technology that will allow chips to communicate through pulses of light and allow users to wirelessly project the Internet onto large screens from tiny mobile devices.

That is the vision of the future that Justin Rattner, an Intel Senior Fellow and the chip maker's CTO, sees as he looks out at the next four decades. Since Intel just celebrated its 40th anniversary, Rattner is using the Intel Developer Forum here to outline a vision for Intel for the next 40 years that goes well beyond transistors and CPUs.

The first major technological breakthrough that Rattner sees coming from Intel is in the field of photonics, where Intel and its research staff have been investing a serious amount of energy during the last several years. Photonics involves replacing the copper wires that have been traditionally used in microprocessors with tiny lasers that will transmit data across light pulses. So far, Intel has been able to demonstrate laser modules that send data at 40G bps.

Now, Rattner said, Intel is preparing demonstrate a second-generation hybrid silicon laser that will run with just 8 milliwatts. (A milliwatt is one-thousandth of a watt.) Intel has also created a monolithic chip that will allow engineers to integrate other photonic and electronic components into the silicon. The previous generation of silicon did not allow for this integration. If all goes according to Intel's plan, Rattner said he believes that photonic technology will enter the commercial market in about 2010.

The benefits of these types of processors are chips that use less energy and give off less heat, while increasing the bandwidth and the speed at which data travels from one point to another. IBM is also working on similar technology.

However, while this type of silicon technology seems destined for larger server systems and high-performance computing, Rattner said Intel's plans call for incorporating photonics into desktops first.

"We want to avoid the stigma of people looking at this and saying it's a server technology," Rattner told eWEEK. "We want to use this in high-volume applications and we also think that will help drive the cost down quickly. If it first appears in lower-volume applications, the cost curve won't happen immediately."

Another area that Intel is exploring that has real commercial potential is developing mobile devices that will give users the full experience of the Internet and allow for better communication between different devices.

While Intel has already begun marketing its Atom processor for a new class of devices called MIDs or mobile Internet devices, Rattner said he believes that today's screens are still too small to give users the full range of rich Internet features that are making their way into the market every day. What Intel is developing is a platform called "Carry Small, Live Large," which bridges the gap between mobility and the full, rich experience of the big screen.

"What we want to do is give small devices the capabilities to have large experiences, and that involves having these small devices and wirelessly coupling them to large displays that have additional storage and compute resources," Rattner said.

While this has clear applications for home entertainment, the technology can also be transferred to cars. Rattner described a piece of technology called a composition manager that would allow a range of different devices-iPod, iPhone, GPS-to exchange information about their individual capabilities such as compute power, storage and I/O. This could allow a single iPod or other MP3 player to be plugged into a car and transmit different music to passengers in the back and front seats.

This vision of sharing and using different devices also involves Intel's effort to expand the number of products that use its embedded x86 Atom processors, which use Intel Architecture. This allows a range of different devices to be connected to the Internet.

"Our customers want the Internet as part of that embedded experience, and the types of application that use Intel Architecture are really being looked at right now by the automotive industry," Rattner said.

This type of technology also has implications for video signage, especially if the signs can be equipped with their own IP addresses. This will allow a business to remotely transmit images and advertisements to a video sign.

Rattner is expected to talk about other new Intel technology during his keynote address on Aug. 21, including a robotic hand that can sense how to grip an object by how that object distorts the electrical field around the hand.