Intel CTO showcases futuristic research

Aug 21, 2008

Intel CTO Justin Rattner speculated on where technology might take us by the middle of the 21st century, in his keynote an Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco today. Rattner showcased several areas of Intel’s advanced research, including wireless power transfer, shape-shifting matter, and technologies to make robots more personal.

Rattner noted that researchers at Intel are already exploring human-machine interfaces, with progress being faster than anticipated.

“The industry has taken much greater strides than anyone ever imagined 40 years ago,” he said. “There is speculation that we may be approaching an inflection point where the rate of technology advancements is accelerating at an exponential rate, and machines could even overtake humans in their ability to reason, in the not so distant future.”

Rattner discussed several of Intel’s advanced research projects, including…

Wireless power

Intel researchers have been experimenting with Wireless Resonant Energy Link (35-page PDF download) technologies pioneered by MIT scientists. This would allow mobile devices to be charged wirelessly, via “strongly coupled resonators,” allowing devices’ batteries to be recharged over a distance of a meter or so. Rattner reportedly demonstrated a 60W light bulb being powered wirelessly.

In the following video Josh Smith, a principle engineer at Intel’s Seattle research lab, describes and demonstrates Intel’s wireless power research:

(Click to play video; source: Intel)

Shape-shifting matter

In this segment of the keynote, Rattner described Intel research in the field of Dynamic Physical Rendering (DPR), whereby millions or billions of micro-robots — dubbed “catoms” (claytronics atom) — provide the basis for shape-shifting materials. According to Intel’s DPR lab, each catom will have four properties, according to Intel’s DPR lab: computation; motion; power; and communications. Rattner floated the idea of a catom-based mobile computer that could morph into various device styles, including tablet-like and phone-like formats.

Making robots more personal

To illustrate how robots are becoming more human-like, Rattner demonstrated two personal robot prototypes developed at Intel’s research labs. One had a hand equipped with “electric field pre-touch,” allowing to “feel” objects before they are touched. The other was an autonomous mobile robot capable of recognizing faces and responding to commands, such as “please clean this mess,” given to it verbally.

The following video, taken just prior to Rattner’s keynote, shows the robotic hand sensing an object without actually touching it:

(Click to play video; source: Intel)

A third demo in this segment of the keynote showed how humans and machines could be brought closer together using devices such as Emotiv‘s EPOC “neuroheadset.” According to its manufacturer, the EPOC uses a set of sensors to detect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and facial expressions and transmits the resulting signals wirelessly to a PC, machine, or robot. One application for the neuroheadset is for players to control and influence games mentally. Emotiv claims to hold a patent on “revolutionary neural processing technology [that] makes it possible for computers to interact directly with the human brain.”

The following demo describes how Emotiv’s neuroheadset works, and demonstrates some of what it can do:

(Click to play video; source: Microsoft TV)

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