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his keynote address, the CEO held up a RealSense camera that currently is being put into tablets and PCs, and then a newer version of the camera that he said is about half the size and thickness of the original.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.
Intel Shrinks RealSense 3D Cameras for Smartphones
Intel officials also highlighted some of the work being done in China with Intel technology, from Intel-based Internet of things (IoT) gateways to a commercial vehicle telematics platform to an air monitoring system based on Intel’s Edison development platform. In addition, Krzanich announced the establishment of an IoT lab in China that is being established with partners in the country and the creation of China’s first Intel Parallel Computing Center.
In addition to RealSense, the CEO also said Intel was expanding the reach of its Atom x3 chip family—code-named SoFIA—beyond smartphones, tablets and phablets and into connected devices that make up the IoT. The chips included integrated 3G, LTE, WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities and will be able to run not only devices based on Google’s Android mobile operating system but also Linux, Krzanich said.
In addition, developer kits around Atom x3 will be available in the second half of the year. The CEO said that 14 original design manufacturers (ODMs) already have signed on to develop systems powered by the quad-core Atom x3-C3230RK reference design from Rockchip, and that 48 designs are in the works on devices that will start becoming available later this quarter. That is on top of the 20 companies that already were announced that are creating more than 45 tablets, phablets and smartphones based on Atom x3 reference designs.
At the show, Krzanich demonstrated a smartphone powered by an Atom x3 processor and supporting LTE-TDD connectivity over China Mobile’s network that was streaming music. That phone is expected to be released in the second half of the year.
Intel also announced that its 14-nanometer Pentium and Celeron SoCs—code-named Braswell and aimed at entry-level systems—are now shipping to customers building notebooks, desktop PCs and two-in-one devices. Officials said the new chips will offer up to twice the graphics performance and better battery life than the previous generation, all at a lower thermal design point. More than 40 systems from multiple OEMs are expected to launch later this year.