Intel's RealSense 3D camera technology is already the star of IDF

Intel is promoting its computer vision technology hard at IDF

Krzanich IDF

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at IDF in San Francisco Aug. 18, 2015

Credit: James Niccolai

Things have only just gotten under way at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco and the company’s RealSense depth-sensing camera technology has already emerged as the most important technology at the show.

In years past, Intel would work up the crowd with a glimpse of its next chips for PCs and servers. But with Moore’s Law stumbling and the action in computing shifting to robots and the Internet of Things, the chip maker has more important things to emphasize.

In his opening keynote Tuesday morning, CEO Brian Krzanich showed how the computer vision enabled by RealSense can be used in all kinds of applications, ranging from robots to computer games to vending machines that interact with the people around them.

RealSense robot James Niccolai

A robot that uses Intel's RealSense for computer vision

Krzanich showed the first prototype smartphone with a RealSense camera embedded inside. It will allow smartphones to be used to create 3D scans of objects, or even to act as motion sensors for computer games.

Intel and Google are building a software developer kit to be released later this year that will let Android developers start building apps that make use of RealSense.

But the technology is also coming to a huge range of other software platforms, including Mac OS X, Linux, the open source Robot Operating System and the Unity gaming engine, Krzanich said.

RealSense smartphone

A prototype phone with Intel's RealSense 3D camera, shown at IDF

It’s all part of Intel’s effort to get developers thinking creatively and using its chips and other technologies in non-PC devices. With drones, robots and wearables all taking off, Intel needs to make sure it doesn’t get left behind when all that computing action shifts to other platforms.

“The big question for IDF this year is, What will you develop? What will you bring to the world?” Krzanich asked the hall of developers.

RealSense can play a big role in PC gaming, he said. A company called Razer will sell a standalone camera peripheral, powered by RealSense, that can track gamers' movements when they’re playing a PC game.

Shaped like a small flashlight, the camera can track head movements, for instance, so if a gamer looks to the side while playing a game, the movement gets reflected in what the gamer sees on the screen. The camera is due out in the first quarter next year.

Krzanich also showed a vending machine fitted with a RealSense camera. It allows the machine to identify the gender of the person using the machine and even an approximate age range, according to Krzanich.

It can then display ads targeted to that person on a transparent video display on the front of the machine. And because RealSense supports gesture control, the person can order from the machine without actually touching it.

It’s one of those technologies that seems to be looking for a problem to solve - vending machines might not be it. But Krzanich said a touch-free interface could also be useful in a sterile environment like a hospital.

Vending machine maker N&W plans to produce 5,000 of the RealSense vending machines next year, Krzanich said.

He also showed a mirror for stores that allows people to try an item of clothing in different colors without actually trying it on. The RealSense camera locates the person in front of the mirror, and software changes the color of the item they're wearing.

RealSense mirror

A mirror for stores that can let people try on clothes in different colors without getting changed 

The Intel chief showed a few new technologies for PC users too.

He demonstrated a technology developed with Microsoft called Wake on Voice that allows a computer to listen for voice commands even when it’s in sleep mode, so a user can wake the PC instantly with a voice command without touching it.

The companies are integrating the technology with Microsoft’s Cortana assistant so a user will be able to walk up to a Windows 10 PC and say “Hey Cortana, wake up,” and the PC will instantly start working.

Wake on Voice will be integrated with all of Intel’s families of client processors, including its Core and Atom chips.

Intel also showed a wristband that can authenticate a user on a PC and unlock the system simply by having the person walk up to the PC.

The person wearing the wristband has to log into the PC manually the first time, typing a password. The PC then sends an authentication token to the wearable, and it unlocks the PC each subsequent time the user is nearby, using Bluetooth Low Energy.

When the user takes the wristband off, the authentication token disappears, and a manual log-in is necessary.

"This proof of concept shows that wearables can solve the password problem with enterprise-grade security and consumer-level usability," according to Krzanich.

It uses one of a handful of new SDKs that Intel is providing to developers this week. The authentication service is being standardized now by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, Krzanich said.

Intel will say more about the new tools it has for developers during the course of the week. It's trying to nurture a "maker" feel at the event, with plenty of computerized toys and robot cars around for people to play with.

And there is barely a PC or a server in sight.

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