Intel research projects could lead to smarter robots and compound semiconductors

Intel is generally thought of as a CPU company, though it produces a large number chipsets and has many other projects in the works. Some of the projects that Intel was showing off recently are a bit of a departure from traditional pursuits at Intel.

Intel's Jason Rattner gave the keynote at Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2008 and shed some light on projects Intel researchers are working on. Rattner said that Intel's research labs are attempting to make significant changes in the human-machine interface.

One example of how Intel is looking at changing the human-computer interface is with computer systems that can be physically altered by the user depending on how the user needs the device to function.

Intel researchers are looking at methods to make tiny micro-robots -- called catoms -- that could be built into materials able to change shape at the will of the user. Using catoms Intel reports that the case, keyboard, and display of a computer would be able to change from an earpiece when used as a phone, to a large and flat screen and keyboard for web surfing.

Intel says the first step in the development of catoms has been made. Intel researchers developed a new technique for fabricating sphere of silicon using the same photolithography techniques that are being used today to build microprocessors. The catoms would be less than a millimeter across and would combine computational and mechanical components. The silicon spheres are the first basic building blocks needed for constructing catoms.

Rattner and Intel's Dr. Michael Garner -- manager of Intel's Emerging Materials Roadmap -- together spoke about research at Intel into new silicon technology that would take today's traditional planar transistors and replace them with 3D transistors to allow for the creation of compound semiconductors.

Rattner also talked about research being conducted at Intel that would bring innovation into the world of robotics and help move robots from the factory floor into our homes. Rattner says that before robots can become personal, they need to be cognizant of their surroundings and be able to manipulate objects in a dynamic physical world.

Intel had two prototype robots on hand at IDF 2008. One of the prototype robots was a hand that uses electric field pre-touch. Electric field pre-touch is a method of sensing objects -- used by some fish -- that allows the robot hand to feel an object before it touches them. The second prototype shown was an autonomous mobile manipulation robot that is able to recognize faces and execute commands that are generic -- such as clean up this mess.

Another of the major displays shown during the keynote at IDF 2008 was the wireless power concept -- based on principals proposed by MIT physicists -- called Wireless Resonant Energy Link (WREL). DailyTech reported on the WREL demonstration earlier today. The technology is basically the work of Tesla and could power a 60W light bulb without wires from three feet away.

Ultimately, Intel hopes to build this technology into its chipsets and allow computer users to cut the final cord tying computers down -- the power cable. In the future Intel envisions a notebook that is recharged by simply stepping into a room.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner
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