Intel Dives Deeper Into Virtual Reality, Drones

At the IDF show, CEO Brian Krzanich unveils innovations around VR, robotics and drones as the company continues its pivot away from PCs.

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SAN FRANCISCO—Intel's highly publicized transition was on full display during the first day of the chip maker's Intel Developer Forum here Aug. 16.

During his keynote address, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, who is orchestrating the company's move away from PCs and its painful restructuring, touched on the myriad growth markets Intel is now focusing on, from the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to the data center, drones, robotics, the internet of things (IoT) and wearable devices.

In particular, Krzanich talked about the company's work in virtual reality (VR) technology and an expansion of Intel's long innovation partnership with Microsoft, as well as new capabilities for its RealSense 3D vision technology for autonomous machines, such as drones and other robots. In addition, Intel will release a development board for drones that will be powered by the company's low-power Atom systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) and RealSense technology.

Krzanich also highlighted the partnership with automaker BMW and computer vision company MobilEye in driving the development of autonomous vehicles that will hit the road by 2021. And while PCs were mentioned during the lengthy keynote, it was in how the upcoming seventh-generation Core "Kaby Lake" processors will enable systems to better run 4K videos.

All of this feeds into the new Intel that Krzanich and other executives are molding, the CEO said.

"We are transforming into the company that is powering the cloud, connecting smart devices and making new experiences possible based on all that today," he told many of the 6,000 attendees expected at the three-day show here.

In the VR space, Krzanich announced Project Alloy, a push to create an entirely self-contained VR headset that does not need exterior sensors or to be connected wirelessly to a PC. The headset will contain all the compute, graphics, batteries and modules, as well as technologies like RealSense, that it needs to deliver an immersive experience, he said. With the headset, users will have greater freedom of movement because they'll no longer be tethered to the PC, and the RealSense technology will enable them to detect obstacles and avoid collisions.

Project Alloy also is an example of what the CEO is calling "merged reality," the ability to bring physical objects into the virtual world, and vice versa. A demonstration showed a user viewing a virtual world through an Alloy headset and being able to show his hands and other physical objects—such as a dollar bill or other people—in the environment, and to manipulate the environment using those objects.

On the software side, Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, said on stage that the software maker will update Windows 10 to enable the company's Windows Holographic software that runs on its HoloLens to also run on the Alloy headsets, and that in December at Microsoft's Hardware Engineering Conference, the companies will announce a spec for VR headsets like Alloy and Microsoft's HoloLens.

In addition, Krzanich said that in the second half of 2017, Intel will open-source the Alloy hardware and provide open APIs to third parties, which when combined with the new Microsoft capabilities, will mean that "anybody can take the Alloy hardware combined with Holographic and use it with any hardware they choose" to create their own products.

The RealSense technology is becoming an increasingly important part of what Intel is proposing on multiple fronts, and something that Krzanich said should be looked at as a family of products rather than a single technology. In that sense, the CEO announced several developments, including the RealSense Robotic Development Kit, which combines an AAEON UP board and RealSense R200 camera to give developers the tools they need to build robot prototypes that can not only recognize objects but also navigate their way around an environment. The board, which is available immediately, is preinstalled with Linux software and support for the Robot Operating System (ROS).