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Intel to bring human touch to tech platforms

Posted: 24 Dec 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel lab? processor? supercomputer?

Intel Labs' People and Practices Research group (PaPR) detailed its vision of a more human-centered technology future at a recent open house. The lab showed such developments as the turbo boost feature in Intel's forthcoming Core i7 processor, algorithms for "pocket" supercomputers and concept designs for Atom-based smart phones.

PaPR applies the principles of sociology and forward-looking anthropology to predict what humans will require from tomorrow's architectures. "We are trying to understand what people actually do in order to better design technology," said Ken Anderson, an anthropologist at PaPR. "All our studies focus on how people live their lives, in order to better plan for [Intel's] architectural future."

For example, a turbo boost feature announced at the recent Intel Developer Forum will let the forthcoming Core i7 processors temporarily overclock one core to achieve bursts of speed during times of peak usage. "People are starting up tasks and switching to doing something else all the time, making it rather important to think about the need for an extra boost at certain moments of time," Anderson said. Turbo boost will be part of the next-generation 32-nanometer processors that Intel expects to deliver early next year.

Richard Beckwith, a research psychologist at PaPR, demonstrated pattern recognition algorithms that he claims could be scaled up to run on future pocket supercomputers. Today's educational pattern recognition programs for children, Beckwith said, will be scaled to adult size by the time the pocket supercomputer becomes a reality circa 2018.

"We have been looking at education," said Beckwith, with an eye toward devices "that will actually watch a child and be able to follow what they are doing, then give them hints and feedback to allow them to work through exercises at their own pace."

The group is wrapping up work now on a pattern recognition algorithm that will run on Intel's ClassMate PC, a low cost laptop-like computer for educational use, whose internal camera has been modified so that it focuses on the user as tasks are performed. Teachers can configure the software to supervise students as they perform pattern-matching problems such as sorting coins. The system would provide verbal cues and encouragement to guide the students' progress. It is slated for testing in classrooms early next year.

Atom smart phones
Intel also showed three concept designs for touchscreen-equipped smart phones based on its Atom processor. The smallest is similar to a T-Mobile Android but is slimmer. A midsized model has a slide-out second touchscreen that could be used for text messaging, for example, while a movie or other content ran on the phone's larger, main screen.

The largest model is bigger than an iPhone but smaller that a Kindle, and slimmer than both. A desktop dock allows this enterprise-caliber mobile Internet device (MID) to sync with a PC.

"Our largest MID is focused more on the enterprise or productivity space," said John Cross Neumann, an industrial designer at PaPR. "Our thought is that this would be a device similar to a BlackBerry that you would use throughout the day at your desk and [at] meetings."

The enterprise MID would be too big to fit in your pocket but small enough to carry with you throughout the day, much as you might carry a clipboard. The larger screen, about the size of the one on Sony's e-reader, could be laid or propped up on a desk and comfortably read by several people at once, letting a group view a presentation together at a meeting, for example.

A wearable camera accessory, with a clip that can be attached to the user's clothing, works with all three of the concept designs and can stream video wirelessly to the MID platforms. Thus, "you could passively capture events without removing yourself from the experience," said Neumann.

By intelligently categorizing the resultant video using the smart pattern recognition algorithms developed by Beckwith's group, Intel hopes eventually to permit users to locate video clips just by searching by image. For example, the user might search for all clips containing "John," whose image would have been stored in the address book to enable automatic pattern matching as the video is streamed in from the phone camera, using the pattern recognition routines created for the envisioned pocket supercomputer.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times





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