Intel upgrades Edison, its smallest computer

Intel will add more connectivity capabilities to its Edison board for wearable devices

Intel's Edison computer for wearable devices

Intel's Edison computer for wearable devices

Intel is making improvements to its smallest computer, called Edison, which is targeted at wearable devices and was introduced in January.

Intel's original Edison computer -- which is the size of an SD card -- had limited capabilities, which made it useful for a few wearable devices. The upgrade will make Edison usable in wearables with more sensors and wireless connectivity, said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of the New Devices Group at Intel.

"We decided to make Edison slightly better," Bell said. "People came out of the woodwork to talk to us about what they can do with it."

Edison is intended for use in small, flexible electronics that can be worn around the body. While smartwatches, fitness trackers and health monitors are grabbing the most attention, Intel hopes Edison will be used as a launching pad to experiment with new wearable product designs. Intel is developing prototype devices wearable on the head, wrist and ankle, and earlier this week bought fitness tracker company Basis Science.

Intel has added a sensor hub to the redesigned Edison, and users will be able to add sensors for location, environment and light, Bell said.

But the improvements will make the rectangular circuit board 1 millimeter larger on each side. Intel had to add a circuit block with a range of connectors to which separate boards or sensors can be attached.

"Smaller may not be better," Bell said, adding that connectors were important to expand usability of the chip.

While smartwatches may be too small, Edison will still fit into wearable products like smart shirts or health monitors, Bell said. Bell envisioned Edison in a smart U.S. football helmet, where the chip could do real-time data analysis related to the impact of a hit, Bell said.

"You can connect [any sensor] to this," Bell said.

Adding more sensors usually leads to more power consumption, but the chip in Edison will be able to handle the computation while consuming the minimum amount of power required for that operation, Bell said. The improved Edison will also be better at handling data transfers to the cloud through wireless connectivity.

Intel will ship Edison in the U.S. summer, though Bell did not comment on price. Intel sells a larger, uncased computer for wearable devices called Galileo for between US$60 and $70 through distributors. Intel's wearable kits have the low-power Quark processor, which is based on the x86 architecture.

Other vendors like Freescale have shipped wearable development kits, but those boards are the size of a credit card or larger. Those kits are largely meant to build prototypes and develop applications for wearable devices, and have more features like wireless charging capabilities.

The improvements will "future-proof" Edison, Bell said, adding that the company will look at how wearable devices turn out before defining future chips. Intel is also developing boards that can be attached to Edison via the sensor hub, which will be released at a later date.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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