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Research at Intel Day 2005

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Just over a week ago Intel gathered journalists from around the globe in sunny Santa Clara to show them some work in progress at its research labs there. As one of the lucky few attendees from the UK I have to be honest and say that I didn’t quite know what to expect.

The first day started with several briefings on what the research and development people at Intel were doing and the way that R&D has changed over the years at Intel. One interesting aspect of Intel’s new approach to R&D is that rather than having a component based approach, Intel is now focusing on final products. Now this doesn’t mean that Intel will start manufacturing whole PCs or any other devices, but rather that the company is trying to find new ways of using its technology in as many products and markets as possible.

One of the big buzzwords was proactive computing, which is something that is still some time away but Intel wants to be at the forefront of this new era. So what is proactive computing? Well, in essence your computer will anticipate your needs and act on your behalf rather than just waiting for input from us.

To be able to make proactive computing a reality Intel thinks that several things need to happen first. Without going in to too much detail this involves enabling computers to interface with the physical world around them, better and more advanced networks and cross compatible software. On top of this, computers must be able to handle uncertain statistics for data processing, get vastly improved security for a number of reasons as well as understanding what is wanted and respond in a suitable way before being asked.



Now this might sound very futuristic in many ways, but from what Intel showed me, some of these ideas aren’t that far off, or at least parts of them. One of the really big things at the moment is virtualisation and Intel is developing Xen which is a virtual machine monitor. Xen will act as a layer between the hardware and the operating system, so there should be less blue screens in Windows and it should be far easier to swap between multiple operating systems on a PC.

Another features Intel hopes to deliver with the help of virtualisation is what it refers to as Internet Suspend Resume. If Intel manages to pull this one off you should be able to suspend the state of the PC you’re working on, download it to a portable device or even save the state online, and then upload that information to a different PC - the result will be like using your own PC, but anywhere.

One of the test platforms that Intel is using for some of its new network technologies is PlanetLab which is an open platform for a wide range of worldwide network projects. If you’re interested, several of the PlanetLab projects can be accessed by the general public from the website.



Another part that ties in with the networking technology is what Intel calls Motes, which are low powered computers that are connected to various sensors (see the two pictures above). These can then be used for measuring all kinds of data. Intel has Motes installed all over its factories that monitor various conditions ranging from the air conditioning system to motor bearings. The Motes have also been used for monitoring water pipelines in Boston.

A single Mote is not very powerful but with built-in Bluetooth for wireless data transmission and super low power requirements they are the ideal platform for remote monitoring. You can also stack several Motes to do more than one task and a third party company has developed a gateway that allows for integration with 802.11 based wireless networks.

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