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Intel announces $100M investment in university research

Posted: 31 Jan 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel's university research investments? Intel Lab centers? Intel lab model?

Intel Corp. will infuse $100 million into selected U.S. university research centers in the next five years. The catch, however, is that Intel may or may not allow other companies to take part in the centers it plans to establish.

The investments represent as much as a five-fold increase in Intel's university spending. It will fund targeted research centers only in the U.S., typically at $2.5 million per year for five years, the first focusing on a visual computing center at Stanford.

Intel plans about six Science and Technology Centers on topics including mobility, security and embedded systems, inviting proposals from universities interested in what it calls a new lab model. Unlike past Intel Lab centers, the new investments will be for centers in which Intel provides about four full-time staff, has a say in the center's research agenda and a voice in what other companies, if any, participate.

In addition, Intel business units can request to send staff researchers to the centers to work on specific projects.

For Intel the model provides an opportunity to engage a wider net of top university thinkers in ways that enhance the chance it will gain useful outputs. The universities get a significant injection of research dollars, but risk getting too tightly allied to a single company's agenda.

"We had a lot of discussion about this," said Pat Hanrahan, a Stanford professor who will co-lead the new visual computing center with an Intel counterpart.

"Intel wanted the research to be open and address what we thought were the fundamental issues, so there has never been any pressure to not do what we think is the best research," Hanrahan said.

He noted that the group convened a workshop of Intel and academic researchers that defined the new center's four broad themes and several specific projects under them. The topics include real-time simulation, exploring ways to more easily create visual content, image recognition, immersive worlds, augmented reality, smart cameras and programmable graphics.

"Most of the industry funding we get is for our most wild high-impact, high-risk research," said Hanrahan. By contrast, "government funding has become somewhat more short-term," he said.

"These are not closed labs," said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer. "We are already in discussions with industry partners, but we are not at the point we can go public with their participation�we are open to other companies and state and federal government groups," he said.

"If we can act as the seed and attract more support, we won't object to that," Rattner said. "We want to encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and we don't want to over-specify the mission of these centers," he added.

Universities must collaborate
The centers will be jointly governed by Intel and the universities. If competitors such as AMD or Nvidia want to participate "it would depend on what their interests are and what their financial support would be," said Rattner.

Nvidia, Intel's archrival in graphics, has invested considerable sums in university research and education on general-purpose computing with GPUs using its chips and CUDA software environment.

Intel's new model requires collaboration among multiple universities. The Stanford center will collaborate with researchers from seven other universities.

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