MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Intel held its annual Research@Intel day here at an ironic place to disclose future technologies: the Computer History Museum. On the bottom floor, are systems like the first Apple, one of the first Vax computers, the first NeXT cube and the first server used to power Google.
One floor up and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) CTO Justin Rattner was showed off products with more compute power individually than all of the assembled museum pieces downstairs combined. There were as many software as hardware demonstrations, a reflection that Intel does more than make chips.
Rattner also announced the creation of a new Interaction and Experience Research (IXR) group at Intel. Instead of hiring engineers, it will hire sociologists and anthropologists who will visit foreign countries, spend time in the homes of people to see how they live, and tune future products accordingly.
Intel said it's come to realize that products it made for American audiences and tried to market to other countries failed because they had an American design in mind. In other parts of the world, the home is smaller, there is no "den" for the computer or kids don't keep a computer in their bedroom.
"We are spending more and more time understanding how users relate to and use technology, understanding what they like and don't like, and that's driving our design process," Rattner said in his welcoming speech.
Intel's emphasis on "user-centered computing" was on display in the demo room as well. One demo was of a prototype dual-camera, motion detection device called Portico. Typically when you use the touchscreen on a tablet or smartphone, your hands get in the way of viewing the screen. Portico lets the user gesture (type, swipe or touch) off the device, keeping the screen clear for viewing.
SENS, or Socially ENabled Services, was a new twist on a Facebook style status update. The SENS uses a sensor in a smartphone to detect gestures and creates a computer avatar designed to mimic what the user is doing. For example, if you're walking, the avatar shows you walking; if you're sitting it shows you sitting. It could detect where you are and reflect that as well. So now instead of a buddy list like you have on AOL Instant Messenger or Facebook, you're presented with a small window showing the icons of your friends are actually doing.
HERB, the Home Exploring Robot Butler, had a look reminiscent of Terminator but it's meant to be more like the friendlier Rosie from The Jetsons. The robot is mounted on a Segway and had a digital camera for viewing, HERB is meant to be a home assistant for people, capable of learning its surrounding and maneuvering around obstacles to do simple jobs like throwing out trash.
Another prototype, Dispute Finder, aspires to bring you a kind of fair and balanced Web. It's a search engine overlay that not only finds documents on specific subjects but also finds counterpoints and contrary points of view. The idea is that rather than present a straight list of the most relevant results on a topic, users get a quicker look at the counterpoints to what may be the more popular views on a topic. Intel has a demo site already up and running for Dispute Finder.
Advances in high def video streaming
Intel showed off advances in Light Peak, the fiber optic cabling first demonstrated at last year's Intel Developer Forum. At last year's show, it could only run in a big, bulky desktop case. Now it's running on a laptop, offering 10Gb throughput on a much thinner wire than USB cables. The demo showed high definition video streaming while doing a large file transfer between computers, both over the same wire. Light Peak cables can stretch up to 50 meters, vs. three meters for USB.
Intel has two versions of Light Peak in the works, one with a copper wire in the cable and one without. The copper wire version allows the cable to work on an existing USB 2 and USB 3 port, since it has the same connector, while the fiber optic wire means the same cable will also work on a Light Peak connection.
RouterBrick seeks to eliminate the need for a router in a server environment. A demo setup with four servers with two 10GbE ports each appeared to the network as one 80GbE network port, because all eight Ethernet ports are pooled and appear as one to the network. There is no need for a router or switch, the server talks straight to the network itself and the entire back plane is programmable, so ports can be assigned to tasks.
Finally, Intel showed off solid-state drive (SSD) support in data warehouses. In existing data warehouse setups, data gets out of date quickly because updates are not written to disk until the end of the day, when the workload drops and the software can write data to disk uninterrupted. Disk I/O is something of a bottleneck, and during heavy use, the full bandwidth is needed just for reads.
Intel looks to solve this by having the SSD act as a fast cache. All writes are done to the SSD, not the hard disk. When data is queried from the warehouse, it's checked against the SSD to see if there is newer data or information, and if so, that data is updated before being presented to the person making the query. When the SSD is full, it writes all of that data to the hard disk in one fell swoop.