It was fitting that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's Tuesday keynote at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) here began with a wide-ranging music demonstration. First, a pair of DJs went to town on a turntable set built on the Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) platform. Then a master percussion demonstrated, with something called an "aerodrum," how waving a pair of sticks in midair (if at expertly calculated positions), could produce a killer backing beat. Finally, a pianist, armed only with a pair of gloves, manipulated the air around him as if it were a full synthesizer. Then, just before Krzanich began his speech, all four musicians played together to deliver an ear-blasting impromptu (and mostly virtual) concert.
Technology irrupting into art may have been the first example of what Krzanich envisions coming down the line, but it was far from the last one. His speech, titled "Inventing the Future: The Power of a Smart and Connected World," was full of plenty of others, touching on everything from games and movies to drones and robots to industry and smart cities and beyond, and was peppered with pontification about what it all means now, and what it's likely to mean within just the next few years.
"We're truly inventing a world we can't experience today," Krzanich said. He was speaking of that "opening act," which he said represented a new concept called "Merged Reality," where "things from the real world can come into the virtual world, and vice versa."
But he wanted to take things even further. He said this revolves around four themes: how Intel will redefine the experience of computing; how visual intelligence is being integrated into the products of the future; how Intel is making the cloud an unprecedented platform for innovation; and how the company is empowering the next generation of innovators.
He began by introducing Project Alloy, a completely self-contained VR headset, which uses dual RealSense cameras to track positioning. A colleague put on the headset, which displayed a world the video monitors in the keynote hall depicted as a nuclear-powered sci-fi environment. The front-positioned VR cameras gave the demonstrator in-game "hands" that let him interact with a virtual X-ray machine and see the virtual bones inside his hands. Even more interesting: the introduction of real-world items into the virtual world, such as a dollar bill that he could use to "carve" a piece of gold into a unique shape -- merged reality in action.
Krzanich then introduced Terry Myerson, a senior VP at Microsoft, to discuss the issue of how software will interact with this world, something Microsoft has been concerned with since the introduction of the HoloLens last year. Myerson said the "Windows Holographic experience" will be available for mainstream Windows 10 PCs next year: a new, advanced form of interaction that extends the Windows desktop into virtual space.
The ensuing video demonstration showed how encyclopedia entries could be loaded directly into the HoloLens to give users a first-person view of existing geography and history in the making. Myerson said that the VR experience from the video was capable of running, again, on an Intel NUC -- a tiny, not-too-powerful desktop. The first version of the specification is due to be released at WinHack in Shenzhen in December. But Krzanich said there was something even more exciting to wait for: In the second half of 2017, Intel will open source the Alloy hardware and open up the RealSense API to allow anyone to create new "merged reality" experiences.
What's involved in creating and editing a virtual reality world? Of course, Intel was prepared to show us -- using a system loaded with one of Intel's new 10-core Broadwell-E processors, the Core i7-6950X. Developing in first person, Krzanich's colleague pointed out, removed a lot of the unnecessary guesswork from design. Just how intensive is the real-time rendering? Comparing an Intel Core i7-6700K (which is no slouch of a chip) with the 10-core chip, the 10-core machine finished in just a few seconds what it took the 6700K much longer to accomplish. This "immense productivity gain" would allow content generation to explode, Krzanich said.
Not everyone will care that much about VR games -- but what about sports? Using an array of cameras situated around a basketball arena, Intel can digitize an entire game and make it viewable from any position, from the free-throw line to below the basket.
"You become the director of your experience," Krzanich said. "Imagine any real-life experience. ... The whole industry of filming could change as a result of this technology. This is the magic of mixed and merged reality, and we believe it's a game-changer for virtual reality."
Intel is outfitting stadiums all over the country with the cameras, but that's not all the company is doing: TXL Labs is the other advancement. "We're in the process of putting together a production studio in Los Angeles that will be outfited with the technology that makes this possible," Krzanich said, so that television shows and movies may bring you into the action as never before.
You may not want to use virtual reality for everything you do, Krzanich admitted -- you may still want to work in the 2D world. To that end, Krzanich said, the upcoming 7th Generation Core platform will provide the necessary underpinnings. Hardware acceleration for the HEVC 10-bit codec makes it possible to play 4K far more smoothly than had previously been possible. But integrated graphics on the chip have improved as well: Another demonstration showed a Dell 2-in-1 playing quite smoothly with decently attractive details. (What resolution the game was operating at, alas, was not mentioned.)
Krzanich came back to RealSense to discuss some of the new innovations in drones. He discussed the Yuneec Tornado H, which is now on sale, and uses RealSense cameras to avoid obstacles. And the new Intel Aero platform gives you the basis you need for building your own drone from scratch. Drones, though, are only one new possible intelligent computing application. Intel Euclid is a completely integrated all-in-one platform (only about the size of a candy bar) that gives you "everything you need to bring senses to any robot." RealSense, motion sensors, positioning sensors, compute capability and more offer lots of new possibilities.
Krzanich followed this up with the next generation of RealSense: the RealSense 400, the smallest RealSense camera yet, just a few inches long and less than a quarter of an inch thick. Compared with the previous generation, it doubles the number of 3D points captured and doubles the operating range of the camera. "It will enable developers to create an amazing set of applications," Krzanich said.
"The world of autonomous driving is what we believe is the next great platform for innovation," Krzanich said. And at the heart of autonomous driving is the ability of the car to see, interpret and act on everything around it. Elmar Frickenstein, the senior vice president of automated driving at BMW, arrived onstage in a self-driving i3 to discuss what he considers "the ultimate driving machine." (As soon as Frickenstein got out of the car, it drove itself offstage.)
Frickenstein addressed the question of how we'll move from the current cars of today, which are only lightly connected, to the fully autonomous driving predicted to come in the future.
Like so much else today, Krzanich said, autonomous driving relies on the cloud -- and that reliance will only grow with time. It's estimated, he said, that by 2020, the average Internet user will generate about 1.5GB of traffic per day -- as compared with the smart hospital, which will generate 3,000GB, the autonomous car (4,000GB per day each), airplanes (40,000GB per day) and the smart factory (1,000,000GB per day). And that's all data that needs to be processed and analyzed, something that will require powerful, dedicated platforms of the type Intel wants to be at the center of.
Krzanich then explained the release of the Knowledge Builder platform, which gives developers easy new ways to create and share scenarios with Curie. He estimated that it would reduce development time from weeks to minutes ... It will be broadly available in the first quarter of 2017.
Most of what Krzanich had been focusing on during his speech were consumer innovations, but what about industry? To discuss that, GE CEO Jeff Immelt came out to discuss ways that new IT tools can increase productivity. "In the case of GE, we say that every industrial company has to transition to be a digital company," Immelt said -- a company that isn't able to meet these digital requirements is in danger of not being able to satisfy its customers.
Beyond customers are just ordinary citizens and people who don't want to have to worry or think about technology that will work for them and keep them safe. This bridged the gap into a discussion of smart cities, where such things as smart streetlights could make a big difference.
But these are all pre-existing ideas -- some of the most interesting and important haven't even been developed yet. This allowed Krzanich to move into the final portion of his presentation, discussing how Intel technologies are being used to create new products and products we can't imagine today. The company is facilitating further development, Krzanich said, with Joule, a small-size, low-power platform designed to move seamlessly from prototype to final product. Joule, Krzanich said, is available now.
What are examples of some of the other makers empowered by Intel working on? Team Grush, winners of the first season of Intel's America's Greatest Makers competition, arrived on stage to discuss the smart "gaming toothbrush" that makes dental care fun for kids. By linking toothbrushing to a fantasy-styled shooting game, where you aim your brush at monsters on your teeth, kids can improve their health and have fun at the same time. Though the demo elicited snickers from the audience, it looked very much like a practical application for solving a real problem.
"People think Moore's Law is dead," Krzanich said holding up one of the Grush toothbrushes, to laughter from the cloud. But you sensed that he was, to some degree, serious. If the number of transistors that can be packed onto a chip no longer matters as it once did, there are still major developments being made and impressive innovation happening all around us.
Krzanich was definitely cognizant of this, and acknowledged as much in wrapping up the keynote. "Everything you've seen," he said, "is truly just the beginning of what will soon be possible. I have no doubt that, together, we can change the world."