Intel Shrinks RealSense 3D Cameras for Smartphones

At IDF China, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich shows off a device that integrates a smaller version of the camera, which initially was aimed at tablets and PCs.

Intel CEO Krzanich

Intel is looking to shrink its RealSense 3D camera technology, which currently is aimed at notebooks and tablets, so that it will fit into smartphones.

At the opening day of the Intel Developer Forum China April 8, CEO Brian Krzanich held up a 6-inch prototype smartphone with an integrated RealSense camera. While Krzanich touted the device and technology, he didn't actually turn on the smartphone.

While on stage during his keynote address, the CEO held up a RealSense camera that currently is being put into tablets and PCs, and then a newer version of the camera that he said is about half the size and thickness of the original.

The shrinking of the camera "provides … the ability to put this into [other] form factors," he said. "You can imagine the efficiency and the opportunities for innovation."

Krzanich urged the crowd to imagine "the types of things we can do in the real world, in industrial, in gaming, in just about everything we do."

He didn't say when the RealSense technology will begin appearing in smartphones.

Company executives for a year have been touting what can be done with RealSense, which can sense motions and enable users to change the focus in photographs after the pictures have been taken. The use cases range from password identification through face recognition to gesture control of systems to 3D printing. Krzanich demonstrated how he could use the RealSense technology to unlock a notebook simply by putting his face in front of the system.

Intel officials expect the technology to continue appearing in more systems as the year rolls out.

The RealSense announcement was one of several that Krzanich and other executives laid out during the event in Shenzhen, China, where they also talked up the giant chip maker's efforts to grow in the country and its work with tech vendors in China. Like other tech vendors, Intel is looking to grow its presence in the fast-growing market, and is investing money and growing the number of partnerships.

According to Krzanich, Intel over the past 30 years has invested more than $7.7 billion into its efforts in China, and currently has 7,500 employees spread out around 27 sites in the country. In addition, the chip maker generates $10 billion a year from its China operations.

A year ago, Intel said it would create a $100 million fund and an innovation center in China to fuel the development of smart systems such as smartphones and wearable devices powered by its processors, and Krzanich said Intel already has doled out $37 million from the fund. In addition, the company last year also said it was partnering with Rockchip—which has made ARM-based chips—to create Intel-based systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) for tablets. In September, Intel announced it was investing $1.5 billion in Chinese chip maker Tsinghua Unigroup, giving it a 20 percent stake in the state-owned venture that runs Chinese chip designers RDA Microelectronics and Spreadtrum Communications.

In December, Intel announced it was investing another $1.6 billion over 15 years to upgrade a chip plant in the China. At IDF, Krzanich said the company was investing $120 million in what he called the Mass Makerspace Accelerator program to help fund the work of innovators in the country.