Disclaimer: Intel and Microsoft are both clients. Every now and then, Intel pulls a bunch of journalists and analysts together and showcases what the company is working on in its labs.
The last time I went to one of these Intel showcased a joint project with Microsoft, called Chrome, that could have revolutionized the connected PC. Unfortunately, it died before it saw the light of day.
This year they showcased some interesting technologies that could transform the how we work, collaborate, play, keep track of our loved ones and entertain ourselves.
Here are the highlights:
Virtual Machine PowerPC Killer. This one was easy. Intel showed a FreeBSD-based OS that was running on one processor, and then with some changes to the kernel, moved it to an x86-based architecture—with no application or performance impact. This is architected at the hardware level, and the technology is actually in use by some small hosting companies.
What was new was near-seamless driver support for the technology. Evidently, they have been working on this for some time. Up until now, they could move applications, but the drivers were a problem.
Aside from the implications for Apple (with the means to move Mac OS X to an Intel-based platform), this technology would allow one machine to run Unix, Linux and Windows more easily, and without the typical overhead penalty from using a product like VMware.
Let me tell you, I felt that I could have gone home and still justified the trip after seeing this one demo.
iPod Killer. Well, this might not really be a “killer” product, however, it could conceivably work its way into a future Apple product. (Something many dont know is that Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Intel President Paul Otellini are actually friends). What the technology does is create a two-way link between a music device and a receiver, so you can operate the iPod from the receiver wirelessly.
For example, you would be able to operate and listen to your iPod with the radio controls in your car. If you have steering wheel buttons, they would work. If you had a display on the dash, it would show the songs and play lists. When you went home, you could have the same experience with your home stereo. There would be no need for cables (except that you might want to plug it into the power adapter) and the device would function as if it was actually a real audio system component.
Ultra-Low-Power Wireless Personal Data Repeater. This device blends Bluetooth and Wi-Fi into an always-on personal repeater. Bluetooth uses a small fraction of the power that Wi-Fi needs, and it moves a fraction of the data. The current problem with Wi-Fi is it has to be on and fully powered, even if you arent sending something, because it cant anticipate when someone is going to send something to you.
By combining the devices, the Wi-Fi component can power down when it isnt sending, and the Bluetooth component can be used to identify an incoming event so it can power up. In addition, if that incoming event is a small mail file or instant message, which Bluetooth can deal with, the Wi-Fi side can stay powered down—potentially increasing battery life significantly.
The demonstrated implementation was interesting. The wireless repeater, which was about the size of a pack of cigarettes, connected to the secondary device—a handheld computer, a smart VOIP phone, laptop computer or a display watch. The secondary device would use very little power because all it was doing was talking to the repeater, which can be in your pocket, purse or on your belt.
The technology would let an Internet watch or a very small PDA support streaming video; or enable a small handheld VOIP phone to do video conferencing at decent frame rates. Of course, we may want to borrow Batmans utility belt to carry the repeater, but the rest could be really cool.
Graphic Search. How many of us index the pictures we take? I know I dont, and finding that digital picture can be a pain if you take as many pictures as I often do.
Intel showcased an application that would identify pictures with similar textures and colors. The demonstration was a search for a picture of a whales tale. The team showing the technology found another picture about water, in this case a young woman on a sail board, and then sampled the water sections of the image in three different areas. They then asked the application to find all similar pictures based on texture and color.
While the application did identify several pictures of Intel hardware as having the same texture and color of water, it also identified the correct picture. This was after going through several thousand shots.
Common Graphics Components. Theres a lot of redundant design work needed with modern products—from computer-aided design(CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing(CAM) of the product itself, to the creation of marketing and advertising layouts. If design components were standardized, they could be reused more effectively. With the right architecture, the CAD drawings of the components could be simply built into the end product and marketing could use the same components to showcase the finished offering.
In software engineering, this strategy is called reuse and the practice has shown massive cost savings when used properly. If applied to graphic design and adopted by the industry, this technology could dramatically reduce the cost and time-to-market of related products.
Making Engineers Creative. Creative Engineers sounds a lot like well-groomed programmers—nice to imagine, impossible to have. Often, people who work in one area have a great deal of difficulty finding solutions to some problems because the solution requires and expertise that they dont actually have.
Engineers, in particular, have difficulty thinking outside of their training. For example, if you ever want to hear absolute silence, get a group of engineers in a room and ask them to “brainstorm.” Youll probably hear fleas die of old age, the room will be so quiet.
The software application demonstrated by Intel looks at the technologies involved in a problem, and helps the engineer define the problem. It then mines a cross-discipline knowledge base to suggest paths that could be undertaken to find a solution.
For instance, if a problem with building chips looked a lot like a problem that had been solved with drugs, the application would point to that drug-based answer as something that should be considered. Im not doing this system justice, because the most interesting feature is really the way the software breaks down the problem and engages the problem solver.
For those that understand expert systems, this is one specifically targeted at finding creative solutions to difficult problems. Ive never seen an expert system targeted at this area before.
RFID for the Elderly
RFID Assisted Care. A lot of us have aging parents, and some of us are aging daily ourselves. While we will reach a time when infirmities catch up to us, still, each of us wants to maintain our independence until the last possible moment. Sometimes, folks can become injured or even die because an accident happens while no one else is around.
Intel showed us a solution for this problem: an RFID system that would monitor personal activities at a granular level. The RFID tags are place in household items like glasses, gloves, plates, and utensils and then a system located in the home monitors and reports use. If the system senses that things are not being used properly or that things are suddenly not being used at all, it would alert the care giver that a problem is likely—and the care giver is more likely to respond in time to an emerging or actual problem.
There were other RFID activities demonstrated that I dont have room to discuss here. But it is clear Intel will be moving into the RFID market with a vengeance.
On the whole, the event promised a future filled with new classes of devices that dynamically interoperate to create solutions on the fly, applications that are becoming more intelligent (and more performance hungry) and systems that will become much more aware of our world. The combination suggests a level of automation that we dont yet fully understand, bringing some social implications, particularly with regard to privacy, that we might not now accept.
The event also indicates that the technology industry is recovering, because it once again is looking to the future and trying to change it. Technology companies are no longer living from income statement to income statement and that, my friends, is probably the best news of the day.
Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology. Full disclosure: One of Enderles clients is Microsoft as well as Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Transmeta, VIA and Vulcan. In addition, Enderle sits on advisory councils for AMD, ClearCube, Comdex, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and TCG.