Edge of Innovation

IDF 2016 imagines a world of autonomous cars, 5G drones and laser beams

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

As each Intel Developer Forum (IDF) draws to a close, we get a glimpse at what our future world might look like. You might have already seen the all-in-one VR headset codenamed Project Alloy, which combines virtual reality, augmented reality and RealSense technology for a new ‘mixed reality’ experience. But that’s not all IDF 2016 had to offer.

Autonomous cars are coming

Having already announced a technology partnership with BMW and MobilEye to develop fully autonomous vehicles by 2021 (no driver required), Intel revealed it is building its own fleet of self-driving cars. Two test vehicles were on show at IDF 2016, but building these is only part of a wider autonomous driving challenge.

Consider this: over 120 million automated vehicles could be on the roads by 2030 and each of these will generate a staggering amount of data. In fact, the average autonomous car could process up to 4,000 gigabytes of data per day. To put this in perspective, if the average internet user processes around 1.5 GB of data per day, one self-driving vehicle is the equivalent of 2,666 internet users.

Intel autonomous cars
Intel is building its own fleet of self-driving cars and showed two test vehicles at IDF 2016.

IoT needs 5G mobile data

High-speed connectivity will be vital, which is why IDF 2016 also looked forward to the deployment of 5G networks.

Not only will autonomous cars rely on this super-fast mobile data, but it will prove ideal for future self-flying drones, wireless virtual reality systems, and all manner of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that range from connected home appliances to smart city infrastructure (like road sensors to monitor traffic levels).

AI and machine learning

The next generation of devices will also need to be smarter, leveraging advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Not only will AI help self-driving cars to navigate our roads, but algorithmic analysis will see improvements to predictive healthcare, financial technology and boost the capabilities of future industrial and personal robots/assistants.

Intel Joule at IDF 2016
The new Intel Joule maker board is designed for future IoT devices and robots like this bartender bot by VStone.

Key to this AI transformation will be greater processing power. It’s why Intel is prepping a next-generation Intel Xeon Phi processor, codenamed Knights Mill, to provide extra muscle for data centers supporting machine learning workloads.

The dawn of silicon photonics

Data centers will also benefit from Intel’s announcement that its first Silicon Photonics 100G optical transceivers are now available to buy. By combining traditional silicon circuits with semiconductor lasers, large chunks of information can now be moved at 100 gigabit-per-second speeds using the power of light.

Say hello to the Intel Joule

IDF 2016 also saw the announcement of a new high-end, IoT maker board – the Intel Joule. More powerful than Edison and Curie, the Joule 550x and 570x boards are based around quad core Intel Atom CPUs with 4K-capable Intel HD Graphics, DDR4 memory, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and, perhaps crucially, support for Intel RealSense cameras.

Yuneec Typhoon H drone with RealSense
The Yuneec Typhoon H drone can include a RealSense module to enable it to automatically avoid obstacles.

Rise of the RealSense drones

Not only did Intel showcase the RealSense-equipped Yuneec Typhoon H (now available to buy), but it opened up ordering for the Intel Aero Platform for UAVs. Just as Euclid is aimed at robotics and Joule is designed to help prototype new IoT devices, Aero is a compute device that’s perfect for drones, combining an Intel Atom processor, storage, connectivity and communications in one lightweight, playing card-sized module.

As for the rest…

This wasn’t everything that a busy IDF 2016 had to show us. Behind the keynote speeches, the presentations and the panels, there were connected fire suits, augmented reality safety glasses, smart motorcycle helmets and an Intel Curie-powered toothbrush for kids. For more, read: The Best New Tech from IDF 2016.

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