Intel spotlighting smarter computers, cars at research day

The chip maker wil show off breakthroughs in human-computer interaction

At Intel's annual Research Day this month it will show technologies that read users gestures and respond to thoughts, and a cloud-computing ready "smart car" with accident-prevention smarts.

The devices and ideas that will be on display are concepts unrelated to Intel's core business, said Manny Vara, director of technology evangelism at Intel Labs. However, some developments end up in future products like microprocessors, and also reach devices like smartphones, laptops, or even things that people wear, Vara said. The event will be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, on June 30.

Many ongoing projects research ways in which computers can better interact with humans by recognizing gestures, speech and thoughts, Vara said. On display will be a robot capable of recognizing speech, and mobile devices equipped with cameras that can recognize gestures.

Intel will also show a computer that is able to recognize and respond to brain waves when a user thinks about controlling a particular device. Vara promised more interesting systems that attempt to analyze brain waves to gain insight into users' thoughts, but would not offer more information in advance of the research day. Machines have to learn how humans function and not vice-versa, he said.

Human-computer interaction is also improving with the help of sensors that already exist, Vara said.

For example, robots are being given a stronger sense of touch with the inspiration drawn from sharks, Vara said. Sharks can sense electromagnetic fields through their noses, giving them an idea of what they are biting into. Intel researchers are trying to equip robots with sensors on their fingertips so they can determine whether an object is plastic or glass and how it's shaped, so they know the force and strength with which to grab the object. Such technologies could help in industrial applications, as robots are good at tasks like welding, Vara said.

Intel also has been doing a lot of research on car safety, Vara said. For example, cameras in a car could interpret if a driver is falling asleep, and help actively reduce the speed, or open up windows to improve air flow, which could wake a person up.

"These are incredibly simple things that wouldn't require redesigning of a car," Vara said.

A lot of the research originating from Intel labs has already reached devices. The company in December announced an experimental 48-core processor, and ideas from the research will be incorporated in the upcoming "Knights Corner" chip for high-performance computing. The chip scales up to 50 cores and will be made on Intel's 22-nanometer manufacturing process. The company hasn't announced when the chip would become available, but the company has said that a development chip with up to 32 cores would be available later this year.

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