Intel Developers Forum

Intel Debuts New Chips, Tools and Technologies to Link the IoT to the User

The recent Intel Developers Forum gave engineers and marketers alike a glimpse of some new possibilities for mobile, low-power devices for industry and consumer that will dwell in a world of greater connectivity and fewer wires.


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The Intel Developers Forum (IDF) that was just held in San Francisco was, of course, a big venue for Intel to show off its latest goodies and advocate its vision of the current direction of embedded technology. Having said that, it was also a genuine opportunity to get a sense of where development and markets are headed in the coming year. Companies like Intel (and there are admittedly few of those) not only set trends; they also respond to them.

These trends include, naturally, the Internet of Things and all that entails in terms of low-cost, low-power silicon, connectivity, servers, small modules and an increasing attention to end user and consumer needs. These include enhanced smartphones, tablets and PCs and wearable computing—all of which are well-known buzz words.

However, the first day of the conference offered an interesting contrast and helped to highlight Intel’s role in the industry in which it is such a huge player. On September 9, Apple held a conference in Cupertino, CA, at which it introduced two major products—the iPhone 6 and the Apple watch. Of course, the press was all over this nationwide while the Intel conference did get some coverage in the local San Francisco paper. The major difference is that Apple designs not only the underlying silicon and software functionality of its end-user products, it also meticulously crafts the actual end products down to the last detail of form and style.

That same day, Intel announced an agreement with Fossil Group, which is known for its watches, but also for other fashion accessories, to “identify, support and develop emerging trends in the wearable technology space.” We can assume that the first products to emerge from this alliance will be watches but perhaps other wearable accessories as well. The point is that Intel supplies the underlying technology and for the consumer space, partners like Fossil are responsible for the pizazz. Also, it does not exclude other partners, who may also be competitors. And that, not surprisingly, was why the focus of the conference was on developers and partners.

Processor Platforms

Among this year’s stars is the Core M Processor family, which currently consists of three 64-bit multicore processors, the 5Y10, 5Y10A and the 5Y70 build on Intel’s 14nm technology. A separate die inside the processor package called the platform controller hub (PCH) supplies the processor family I/O. This includes interfaces for sensors such as gyros, accelerometers, GPS and more that are increasingly found in mobile devices (Figure 1).

Figure 1
The Intel Core M processor includes a die in the package that supports a platform controller hub (PCH) that provides rich I/O.

While mobile tablets and laptops along with 2 in 1 tablet/laptop devices  are the initial targets of the Core M, there is little doubt that with its power consumption coming somewhere between the Atom and earlier Core families and a 50% boost in speed and an approximate 40% increase in graphics performance, it will be finding its way into a vast array of embedded applications, both industrial and consumer.

In an additional aid to developers, Intel also announced its Edison development platform, which is based on a 22nm technology dual core Atom SoC, formerly Silvermont, on a board that is just 35.5 mm x 25 mm. The Edison—with a recommended customer price of $50—supplies interfaces in the form of 12 GPIO, I2C, UART, SPI, USB 2.0, 6 analog inputs and a clock output and is aimed at the development of small IoT and wearable computing devices. The Edison will initially support development with Arduino and C/C++ followed by Node.JS, Python and later by visual programming tools.

While Intel has long had the reputation of producing processors in first instance for the PC and laptop markets and then also targeting them for the embedded arena, its SoCs that include Silvermont and Baytail with their many on-chip peripherals, internal buses and rich I/O really do appear to be aimed squarely at the embedded developer. And they certainly are rapidly being adopted by that segment of the design community.

The PC’s Descendants and the IoT

The evolution of the PC does appear to continue to be an important focus for Intel. Even as tablets, smartphones and the Internet of Things explode, there is still a need for a user’s central access point to applications and personal data. Interestingly, there is also a need to pay attention to the design and configuration of servers that will be needed to house the enormous amounts of data generated by the Internet of Things and the various connected devices from wearable nodes to phones, autonomous control and monitoring systems and PCs that increasingly can take the form of small, thin, powerful notebooks or 2 in 1 devices, or “portable all-in-ones,” that can work as a touch tablet or a PC with keyboard.

To enable partners to develop such a next generation, Intel is bringing out its Core M processors mentioned above to be followed by the next fifth generation of 14nm Core i5 and i7 vPro processors and the Core i3, i5 and i7 devices in early 2015. The scope of these introductions including SoCs like Silvermont and its supporting Edison board pretty clearly points to targeting the full range of applications from small, wearable devices to portable and mobile machines on up to the full world of gaming to be addressed by 4 GHz devices and the Core i7-5960X 8-core “extreme” processor. And they’re going to want to do it all without wires. And also without wires, they are going to want sophisticated graphics and video including 3D with facial recognition capabilities—all this they aim to put into mass market consumer devices.

Getting Rid of Wires

Among the oncoming wireless technologies is WiDi, a wireless display technology developed by Intel that allows streaming of display and video from a portable device to a larger display or an HDTV. Intel Pro WiDi also has a security feature that puts a privacy screen up on both the presenter’s PC and a conference room screen, for example, so that a Intel display can be shared with a trusted group. WiDi is currently supported by Intel’s fourth generation Core vPro processors and beyond.

Intel is also supporting the WiGig multi-gigabit wireless technology for such things as wireless docking and high-speed data transfer. WiGig was developed by the WiGig Alliance, which has now been subsumed by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The technology is capable of transfer rates up to 7 Gbit/s, although it typically cannot transmit through walls at that speed. It is not intended as a replacement for Wi-Fi but as a supplemental technology that can be useful at short ranges.

And then there is wireless charging of devices, which is based on a technology called Rezence and supported by the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP). The user experience of Rezence technology involves using a metal plate below almost any surface to enable the charging of any Rezence-enabled device. Such surfaces can be set up anywhere such as in desks and tables as well as public places like retail stores, airports or even office lobbies.

The wireless power transfer (WPT) system transfers power from a single power transmitter unit (PTU) to up to eight power receiver units (PRU’s.) The power transmission frequency is 6.78 MHz.  The system also supports a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) link that is intended for control of power levels, identification of valid loads and protection of non-compliant devices. The PTU comprises three main units, a resonator and matching unit, a power conversion unit, and a signaling and control unit. The PRU also has three functional units like the PTU (Figure 2).

Figure 2
The Rezence charging technology uses resonant coupling at 6.78 MHz to charge client devices. Bluetooth Low Energy matches the power transmitting unit (PTU) to the characteristics of the power receiving unit (PRU).

The control and communication protocol for the WPT network is designed to signal PRU characteristics to the PTU as well as to provide feedback to enable efficiency optimization, over-voltage protection, under-voltage avoidance, and rogue object  detection. The WPT network is a star topology with the PTU as the master and PRUs as slaves. Thus the end user need only set the target device on the surface and the protocols link it up for automatic charging.

Intel is being fairly specific about the classes of device it sees its technologies targeting, but history has shown that the embedded industry traditionally takes advantage of technologies that had been initially introduced for the PC and mass market (such as USB, PCIe, SATA, etc.) and adopts them for all manner of specialized and unique embedded devices and applications. It will be no different with such technologies as the newer class of processors, the connectivity technologies and more. Now that the Internet of Things is increasingly connecting the consumer with background industrial systems and processes, we can just imagine what the new generation of devices and technologies will bring.

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