Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Thinking Outside the PC

Ton Steenman is an Intel vice president and general manager of the company's Embedded and Communications Group. While only recently taking over as head of the business after Doug Davis went off to run the newly established Netbook and Tablet Group, Steenman has been instrumental in establishing Intel's position as an embedded supplier to the communications, automotive, retail and industrial control markets.
Ton Steenman, VP and GM of Intel’s Embedded and Communications Group

Intel has had a successful embedded business for many years, but with the advent of a new low-power Atom architecture over the past few years, the prospects are growing as more and more devices connect to the Internet and communicate, from digital signs and ATM machines to retail kiosks and cars, plus beyond.

In a recent interview with ZDNet UK, Steenman said he was tracking over 4,500 design engagements and over 1,500 design wins with Atom SoCs (system on chip), 60 percent of which are with customers who have never used Intel architecture before. We sat down to discuss some of this with Steenman on the eve of his Intel Developer Forum keynote speech in Beijing.

Q: You already have a successful business with over $1 billion in revenue. What is your vision and where do you go from here?
Steenman: We are connecting embedded devices, delivering great experiences and enabling productivity, and these are bringing benefits to society. There is a group of embedded applications that offer a very rich experience for consumers. This is really a transition that has happened over the past 3 years as the expectation of consumers has shifted to much more interactivity with embedded devices, and all of these embedded devices have become connected. There are applications like self check-out at retail stores, ticket kiosks at airports or digital signs that you find in the mall. These are all embedded applications and consumers are exposed to everyday. You might not even notice it, but computers are all around you nowadays. What we're trying to do is make those experiences very rich.

We're also delivering productivity benefits to industries. Platforms that we deliver in industrial control really help factories become more efficient. We bring higher- performance capabilities to machines that are building things, and these machines can become faster and more accurate. Speed and accuracy are the two dimensions that will improve productivity of a factory.

We also need to provide highly scalable networks. Keep in mind that there's going to be billions of connected devices soon, and you need a highly scalable network infrastructure to connect all of these things so that the network can be managed and continue to connect to devices and reliably deliver services. We are helping equipment manufacturers and service providers build scalable intelligence and performance into their networks.

Q: How do you differentiate yourself in the embedded business?
Embedded logo

Steenman: Nobody in the industry today is looking at this opportunity the way we do, which is from the perspective of "how do we really connect all of these devices together and deliver a rich experience?"

We're showing how technology can have a real positive impact on society in the form of great experiences for people and in the form of productivity for businesses and service providers. Productivity eventually drives increases in the standard of living for everybody. At a real technology level, we are looking at security, manageability and connectivity as the three tenants we have to put in place so that the platform can deliver rich experiences, productivity and scalable networks.

Q: Where are your biggest opportunities for growth?
Steenman: There's a big opportunity in China because they are building out a lot of infrastructure to improve the standard of living for so many people. A large amount of infrastructure has to be put into place to enable this, including smart grid technology so everyone has electricity and health care. So that even people in rural villages can have access to health care treatment, better communication networks and transportation, with smart roads and railway systems that leverage the Internet. Most of these projects have a tremendous amount of embedded technology in it. The high-speed railway system just put in a system of Atom-based smart cameras.

China is on a tear. They're doing things fast, and time to market for these technologies is a very important element for them. They like the Intel architecture platform because of its standardization and that there are so many developers out there who understand Intel architecture.

Q: In many cases you're reaching out to customers outside of Intel's core business. What are they asking for?
Steenman: The biggest demand is that we help them with technology and support so they can focus on their applications, and integrating and deploying their system -- like ticketing kiosks that need to be integrated into the overall capabilities of their high-speed rail build out. They're asking us to help them integrate our specific technology into their application.

Q: Why are customers choosing Atom, and what are they converting from if new to Intel?
Interactive embedded retail kiosk is an example of some of the new kinds of devices Intel is enabling with its Atom processor.
Steenman: There are some designs that we're winning from ARM, but there is also just a lot of new applications being developed. Atom is particularly important to our customers because it allows them to build applications in small form factors and have low-power consumption. Atom is giving them a good balance between power consumption and performance.

In China, Geely Auto and Shenzhen Hazen Auto Electronics are two companies building on Atom for the auto industry. In their older models they had ARM processors in there. They're now using Atom because they really want to build a connected vehicle. They need enough performance to add things to the vehicle over time, so they want a highly scalable platform.

Q: How do you leverage other parts of the company?
Steenman: We have good collaboration with Intel Labs, and we're doing a number of research programs with them. For the more immediate designs and opportunities, we collaborate with our Software and Services Group (SSG). Clearly software becomes more and more important, so SSG plays a very critical role with us enabling many of those software stacks and applications on our platform. We do a lot of work with Wind River Systems, the software company Intel purchased a few years ago that builds software stacks on top of Intel architecture for the automotive and communications industries. They are tremendously helpful as we build out our solutions.

Q: What about security, what are you doing there?
Steenman: We're engaging with McAfee now that the acquisition is complete. Just as security is important for computing in general, it is just as important for embedded devices. Almost every company I talk to says that as their applications become connected, and as their applications connect to the Internet, security we can provide at the device level will become a major attribute of differentiation. It's going to be something that more people really worry about, so the collaboration with McAfee is going to be very important for us to enable security in certain dimensions on these connected embedded devices.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Millions Join 'The Chase'

As the list of most intense chase scenes ever filmed goes, the action-packed pursuit in the short film, "The Chase" might not rival Steve McQueen barreling after bad guys through San Francisco in "Bullitt" or Gene Hackman tracking a train-bound thug through Brooklyn in "The French Connection." But just as these and other cinematic heart-stoppers have put theatergoers at the edge of the seats, Internet users by the millions are getting swept up by the live-action and animated short from Intel that incorporates iTunes, Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft Office, Google Maps, Flickr and other sites and programs.
Though it appears actress Tereza Oslacova is performing a stunt for a big-budgeted action flick, it’s actually for a commercial spot for Intel.

In "The Chase," which recently surpassed 2 million views on YouTube, a woman with an envelope of mysterious contents uses her skills in espionage to outwit, outrun and outlast hooligans across various digital media. Played by Czech actress Tereza Oslacova, the heroine – spoiler alert! -- ultimately ensnares the pursuers on a desktop where she is able to put the villains in the trash and eliminate them with a tidy click of the mouse.

The novel spot, shot by a European crew in and around Prague, Czech Republic, is intended to illustrate the multi-tasking power of Intel's latest processors. The film's popularity has taken even Intel by surprise.

"I've never seen such a pick up on anything we've done to-date," said Johan Jervoe, Intel's vice president of creative and digital marketing services based in Santa Clara, Calif. "This is innovative marketing that works, one, because of the sheer production quality, and two, because the original creative concept is cool."

"Car chase … Prague … girls … fast cars … bad guys … old women in lifts … how could it not be cool?" said Adam Foulkes, one-half of the London-based directing team "Smith & Foulkes," the other gent being Alan Smith.

Sporting many standard action movie elements was by design, according to the film's writer, Josh Parschauer, of San Francisco-based ad agency Venables Bell & Partners.

"We wanted a cliché movie action feel," he said. "Using Prague wasn't originally in the script, but 'The Bourne Identity' and 'Mission: Impossible' have shot there, and the cobblestone streets, the different buildings and people of Old Europe helped achieve that feel."

So popular is Prague as a film location, a traffic jam of sorts caused some inconvenience for the 3-day "Chase" shoot in the world capital. Some other locations were unavailable due to production of "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol," the third sequel in the film franchise. Word got around that "M:I" was shooting in town, so locals often asked the Chase crew where Tom Cruise was. Among those letting them down gently was producer Kacey Hart of Venables Bell.

"Watching a commercial being made is still cool, and even though they wanted to see Tom Cruise, they were still fascinated over the process and how much equipment is needed," said Hart, who has produced several spots for Intel.

Other production challenges
For the model playing a sunbathing beauty whose serenity in her swimming pool is shaken up when the heroine plunges from the sky, it was pretending to be in 90-degree weather when the temperature was closer to 30 – and the heated pool wasn't, adding to the chill of Prague in autumn. For the directors, the most formidable challenge during the making of "Chase" was, to no surprise, the chase itself.

"Obviously, the chase sequence is the most dramatic, impactful and expensive part of any action film," Smith said. "We didn't quite have the budget to smash cars on the streets of Prague, so we had to use our live action almost as the glue between animated stunts."

The test, Foulkes added, was to then "stitch everything together so that the action seamlessly flowed. I think the lack of live action stunts frustrated our DP [director of photography] Oliver Wood, who is used to throwing Matt Damon off roofs."
Czech actress Tereza Oslacova on the set of “The Chase,” Intel’s action-packed film short and Internet hit.

Wood, who lensed all three "Bourne" movies and last year's "The Other Guys," starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, is another reason "Chase" has a motion picture look and feel, albeit lasting for under 2 minutes. Others with feature film experience among the cast and crew include Czech native Pavel Bezdek, who plays the shorter of the two main hooligans and whose stunt work includes "Van Helsing," "Hellboy" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

Feature work by "Chase's" directors includes the purposely saccharine-sweet "Littlest Elf" cartoon that opens Jim Carrey's 2004 dark comedy, "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. "Their 3-D animated short, "This Way Up," was nominated for an Oscar in 2009. Ads fill up most of Smith & Foulkes' calendar at present, and the team's 2004 work for Honda has filled a trophy case all to itself. The animated spot "Grrr," launched to promote a newly launched diesel engine in the United Kingdom, is one of the most awarded commercials ever.

Time will tell how well-decorated "Chase" is come industry awards season. In the 2 months since it debuted, however, the film has topped Visible Measures' Top 10 Viral Video Ad Chart and was named an "Ad Worth Spreading" at the annual TED conference held earlier this month. The film was one of 10 ideas selected among 1,000 submissions worldwide by the non-profit group originally known as Technology, Entertainment and Design.

"Chase's" success has led to some buzz about a sequel. Intel's Jervoe hasn't ruled one out, fully aware he's got a hit on his hands. The directors said they're game. "Maybe we can blow up some real cars next time," Foulkes said with his partner going one step further: "'The Chase Trilogy' has a certain ring to it."

While any talk of a "Chase" sequel is in the exploratory stage, at best, a sure thing is a global special edition. A re-mastered HTML5 re-release will give viewers a browser-based experience that opens up the different programs and applications in separate windows on the user's actual desktop.

"By showing the story through separate windows, we're more closely portraying the actual desktop performance capabilities of the 2nd generation Intel Core i5 processor," Jervoe said. "This enables viewers to feel like the action is actually taking place on their computer."

Another enhancement is multi-lingual translation of the original English text. Viewers will now be able to experience "Chase" in Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages. In addition, because the film integrates various online programs and sites into the story, online entities were created to make them real. For users who want a deeper look, viewers are encouraged to find the eight hidden properties found in the film to uncover a deeper experience called "The Hunt." The Facebook tab offers a leaderboard of users from around the world who have uncovered all of the hidden properties.

A re-launch of the film is scheduled for later this month with additional features being added through the early spring.

Free Shot: Intel Atom Part of Commodore 64 Comeback

When one thinks of comebacks, a struggling athlete back on his game or a has-been celebrity returning to the spotlight often comes to mind. But a computer? This comeback won’t likely make the cover of Sports Illustrated or People, but among technology circles, the just-announced return of the Commodore 64 is a pretty big deal. The computer once called the "breadbox" and "bullnose" due to its shape and color is back. Due out this summer is a new version of what was originally an 8-bit home computer that sold about 15 million units between 1982 and 1994. The 2011 edition could be considered retro with its beige color and keyboard-dominated body – even the $595 price for the base unit harkens back to 1982 – but inside it’s an entirely different animal. For one of the five models, we’re talking an 1.8ghz dual-core Intel Atom D525 processor, Nvidia Ion 2 graphics chipset, 2 GB of DDR3 memory, HDMI outputs to connect to a HDTV and your choice of a DVD or Blu-ray drive. If you wind up buying one, enhance your unboxing experience by dusting off your Sony Walkman if you’ve got one and play "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor. That song was No.1 when the C64 debuted.

Centrino and the Hotspot Revolution ... WIFI

Coffeehouses, fast food joints, airports, hotels and college campuses were some of the first public places to offer it, and today WiFi is available on trains, planes, in taxicabs -- almost everywhere, including inside millions of homes around the world.
As part of the effort to promote hotspots, then San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and former Intel CEO Andy Grove unveiled one of the first ‘unwired’ airports at San Francisco International Airport in March 2003.

It wasn't always this way.

Few technologies in recent decades have caught on and become as ubiquitous as quickly as WiFi, but few may remember that things really didn't take off until 2003 when it became a standard feature of laptops with Intel's Centrino mobile technology.

WiFi, short for "wireless fidelity," was derived from its technical specification IEEE 802.11b, a protocol that started evolving in the early 1990s. Centrino was the name Intel gave to its mobile platform that included a new low power processor code-named 'Banias' and a bundle of chips that included Wi-Fi.

"Intel's Centrino effort represented one of the great technology inflection points in the market," said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. "It drove us from a largely wired computer world to one that freed us from those cables and allowed our PCs to roam along with us.

"WiFi was struggling in the market because it was relatively hard to set up, unreliable and little understood. It took Intel and a massive push behind Centrino to address these shortcomings and make it into the standard it has become today," Enderle said.

In 2003, WiFi was not widely available or understood by most consumers, and Intel knew it had some work to do to promote the concept as part of a massive launch in March of that year. The company had an entire team charged with working with partners and "validating" hotspots around the world. Armed with $300 million and scores of dealmakers, Intel unleashed a worldwide marketing program to accelerate the mobile computing concept and promote the new Centrino brand. Wired Magazine even published a special "Unwired" edition for the occasion.

Almost overnight, McDonald's, Starbucks, bookstores, hotels and airports began offering WiFi service at their locations, and dozens of wireless routers for the home were being tested, certified and branded so that people could see they were "verified" for optimal experience on Centrino-powered laptops.

On the day Centrino was released, thousands of verified hotspots were live, and Intel set a goal to have more than 10,000 verified hotspots by the end of the year.

In 2003 industry analyst firm IDC estimated that more than 118,000 hotspots would exist worldwide by 2005.

Prior to 2003, WiFi wireless Internet technology was relatively unknown to most people. In 2004, Pyramid Research reported that 75 million WiFi users existed globally, and that number was projected to climb to around 327 million in 2009.
T-Mobile was one of the first to partner with Intel to establish dozens of validated wireless hotspots around the U.S. Signs like this one alerted people to the presence of Wi-Fi.

Research numbers at the time varied, but most showed that the uptake of WiFi was momentous and not just a short-lived flash in the pan.

"Every great technology advancement had an event tied to it that caused it to spread widely," said Enderle. "For color it was Walt Disney's "Wonderful World of Color." For WiFi it was Intel's Centrino."

WiFi quickly changed the workplace, allowing people to roam around the office or work from coffee shops while staying connected to email and the Internet without wires. Yet WiFi went well beyond serving work needs. It turned laptops into a must-have personal device that people carried with them almost everywhere they went, even on vacation. Like a wallet, people began to think twice before leaving home without their laptop.

Sept. 25, 2003, 6 months after Centrino was released, was celebrated across the United States as "One Unwired Day." People with WiFi-equipped laptops got free wireless Internet access at more than 5,500 public WiFi hotspot locations nationwide. Hotspots continued popping up in common places around the world – places like libraries, museums and cities squares -- and in such unusual places as the volcanic Mount Etna in Sicily and even hard-to-reach Mount Everest.

U.S. cities competed for the honor of being named "Most Unwired City." Portland, Ore. won the first Unwired City crown in 2003, followed by San Francisco in 2004 and Seattle in 2005, according to research sponsored by Intel and carried out by Bert Sperling's Best Places.

Not everything rolled out as quickly and smoothly as everyone had hoped. The innovative Connexion by Boeing in-flight Internet service was something industry experts and the media got to experience at San Francisco International Airport months prior to the launch of Centrino. The service was available on several airlines, but in 2006, Boeing announced that it would discontinue its Connexion service, stating that, "the market for this service has not materialized as had been expected." A few years later, after industry struggles and consolidation, many airlines began offering in-flight Internet service again, and today JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin are among airlines offering WiFi services on many flights.

Today, the growth of public wireless hotspots continues, according to JiWire, an advertising company that focuses on location-based channels such as WiFi networks. JiWire's Insights report released in August 2010 showed that the number of wireless hotspots in the United States grew 17 percent, and that free hotspots outnumbered fee-based service locations for the first time.

JiWire reported that over 55 percent of public hotspots in the country were free, mostly at hotels, cafes and airports, but pointed out that there was an 11 percent increase in other locations offering free wireless Internet access, including universities and public transit systems.

WiFi is now common in almost every new laptop and is being built inside all kinds of consumer electronics, including portable gaming devices, game consoles, tablets and mobile phones. The WiFi Alliance, a trade association that promotes Wireless LAN (WLAN) technology and certifies products built to certain standards for trusted interoperability, reported that there were 761 million shipments of WiFi products in 2010.

"These days, an electronic product not capable of communicating or accessing content at any time or in any place is regarded by consumers as deficient," said Jagdish Rebello, senior director and principal analyst for consumer and communication electronics at IHS. "This wireless revolution is contributing to a global boom in demand for WiFi chipsets."

With all the hotspots around the world, from coffee shops to nature preserves, it's hard to imagine there are more places to unwire. But more hotspots are coming, and more billions more devices are gaining connectivity functionality. IDC predicts some 15 billion intelligent, connected devices by 2015. According to research firm iSuppli, shipments of Wireless LAN chipsets are on pace to exceed 1 billion units in shipments in 2012 and more than 2 billion units by 2014.

And if you thought your home, hotel, local restaurant or coffee shop was all you needed to unwire, you may be in for a surprise. The next hotspot might just be your own car or in your pocket thanks to various services being offered by cellular carriers today on the latest smartphones.

"WiFi in the car is a hot topic these days," said iSuppli analyst Stacey Oh. "Whereas WiFi was an aftermarket accessory in the past, original equipment manufacturers now are touting it as a key offering."

Raising the IQ on Smartphones ....Lama Nachman

We expect a lot out of smartphones today, but some technology and human behavior scientists believe that mobile computing devices can do even more if only they knew more about their owners.

Tinkering with cameras, microphones, software and other features inside today's smartphones, a team of researchers inside Intel Labs is exploring ways to improve the Intelligence Quotient of future smartphones so they're not just more efficient, but more intuitive about their owner. This was the topic of a recent Future Labs podcast interview.
Lama Nachman, a senior researcher at Intel Labs, is finding ways to raise the IQ of future smartphones using context aware computing technologies.

"We're making systems much more aware of the user and what they're trying to do," said Lama Nachman, a senior researcher at Intel Labs in the podcast. "And then essentially facilitate, act on their behalf, and make recommendations. So devices become much more personalized to us and our needs."

The driving concept behind this context-aware research is to develop artificial intelligence by enabling mobile devices to grow wiser as they build and tap into a database of specific information about owner behavior, movement and even mood.

Researchers such as Nachman say that people would have to train their phone by capturing and identifying sound patterns and images in the owner's world. If a phone owner was at home riding a stationary bike, researchers say, the phone could discern that the rider was indoors, and screen calls accordingly. Simultaneously, it could track how long the user was on the bike and feed that information to an exercise application on the owner's phone.

Nachman said being able to track one's own activities like commuting, watching TV or chatting with work colleagues might help people better optimize the way they use their time in the same way that financial software lets us manage our personal finances. Applications could even use data to help the owner by reminding him or her to "take the stairs" or "there's time between meetings, take a 5-minute walk."

These background-sensing technologies raise questions about privacy. Today, commercially developed applications require people to accept terms and conditions before they can be used. Since wiretapping is illegal in the United States, cell phones can't automatically turn themselves on and start recording conversations.

Andrew Campbell, a professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College, said users need to be kept in the loop in this area of "active computer learning," and developers must find ways to ensure that users keep control of their personal data.

"This issue of privacy is an Achilles heel when you're looking to advance science," said Campbell. "These sensors are an extraordinary opportunity and there has to be good solutions to preserve people's privacy. We must allow them [device owners] to own their data. It's a double-edged sword because we want to innovate at the same time."