IDF: San Francisco – With more than 1 000 researchers in 15 locations throughout the world, Intel is arguably one of the largest R&D investors in the world. But Andrew Chien, VP of Intel Research, says its research projects are not only for the benefit of the company, but the industry at large.
Adressing about 200 international journalists at its traditional Zero Day R&D briefing, Chien says that there are four key elements in Intel Research's mission statement.
"Firstly, we focus on conducting world-class research that advances state-of-the-art technology for both Intel and the industry as a whole," Chien says. "Secondly, our research is driven from conception, through to prototype, to practical use so that technology can be delivered by our product groups.
"Thirdly, we collaborate with the industry – often – through standards, alliances and evangelism for new technologies," he says. "Lastly, we ensure we engage worldwide for the best research and technology. It's no secret that there are more scientists alive today than have ever lived. A lot of innovation happens outside Intel, so it is logical for us to engage with them in order to tap this source."
At present, there are four main areas of focus for Intel Research, Chien says: Tera-scale computing; energy efficient platforms; wireless technology; and what the company dubs "carry small, live large", or small mobile devices.
"Part of our mission is to drive off-roadmap, high impact, exploratory research that is vital to Intel," he says. "For the last 18 months we've been trying to focus on that and this has led to a focus on the notion of 'Essential Computing'.
"To a large degree up until now, computing has focused on the functional," he says. "But what we're seeing – and likely to continue seeing for the next 10 years – is the rapid expansion and broadening of technology whereby it becomes a lot more essential. The things you care about in your social life, the things you depend on. The essence of your life. That's driving us to simplifying and enriching the daily aspects of life."
As with all areas of R&D, there are additional aspects to Essential Computing – four main themes, as Chien calls them.
The first is personal awareness. "Empower me to achieve the goals I value most," Chien explains.
Then there's richly communicative. "The vast majority of computing is communications – individual-type communications as well as broadcast-type communications," says Chien. "The difficulty is, if you look at the level that we're using this computing technology, it's no exaggeration to say that we're at a level where it's really only text. There are no real advances. We're attempting to make this computing a lot richer."
The third theme of Essential Computing is physicality: "Actuating everyday objects," says Chien. "Creating a virtual world."
And then there is the theme of concealing complexity. "This is about hiding the complexity of the technology from the user," Chien says. "Simplifying the use of technology."
He adds that there are two other themes that Intel is researching with regard to Essential Computing – data richness and biosensors.
While biosensors may raise the hackles of many who regard them as an intrusive invasion of privacy, there are a number of practical applications for these devices, including as a fitness device for joggers or gym enthusiasts.
But an even better application – and one that Intel has been involved in for at least 18 months – is in the health sector. In the case of long-term illnesses, for example, they can be used to monitor patient conditions, even as a verification device for the taking of medications.
This type of "telecare" not only proves beneficial in terms of freeing up expensive hospital beds and personnel, but also allows patients to literally live their lives without being bedridden in a foreign hospital environment.
"I really wouldn't call this kind of technology intrusive," Chien says. "A cellphone going off when you don't want it to – that's intrusive. But not this technology."