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Intel aims tiny Linux-ready module at wearables

Jan 7, 2014  |  Eric Brown

At CES, Intel unveiled a tiny module for wearables that runs Linux on a new dual-core Quark SoC, and promised a smartwatch, headset, and other wearable devices.

In November, CEO Brian Krzanich told investors Intel was serious about the “post-PC era.” At CES, the chipmaker followed up with a host of new wearable gadgets in various stages of development, including a smartwatch and a Bluetooth headset. Intel also unveiled a new Linux-oriented computer-on-module (COM) for wearable computers called the Edison [PDF].



Intel’s tiny “Edison” module is based on an Intel Quark SoC
(click images to enlarge)

 


Intel Quark SoC

The Edison is only about the size of an SD card, and features a new dual-core version of Intel’s Pentium ISA-compatible Quark system-on-chip (SoC) for low-power Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Like the single-core, Quark X1000, which runs at 400MHz in Intel’s open source, Arduino-ready Galileo single board computer, the new dual-core Quark is principally designed to run Linux.

While the Quark X1000 was fabricated with 32nm technology, the new, unnamed Quark is a 22nm chip. The second core is not another x86-based Quark core, but a programmable microcontroller core for handling “I/Os and other baseline functions,” according to Intel.

The chipmaker did not mention Arduino compatibility in its brief summary, but said the Edison product would be “compatible with accessible developer tools used by the maker community.” The Quark’s x86 core, meanwhile, will be supported with “Linux and open source community software tools,” said Intel. According to a PCWorld report, the device even offers built-in support for Wolfram’s Mathematica.

The Edison module offers onboard LPDDR2 RAM and NAND flash storage, as well as WiFi and Bluetooth LE radios. It also provides a “wide array of flexible and expandable I/O capabilities,” says Intel.

No more details were provided on the Edison or its new Quark SoC, which will debut this coming summer. However, at CES Intel demonstrated an Edison version of the Mimo Baby Monitor (photo below) from Rest Devices, which measures pulse, temperature, and breathing. The current device which is sewn into a baby onesie suit, appears to use an Arduino Lilypad module, but this has been swapped out for the smaller Edison. The new version eliminates the need for an external receiver, says Intel.



Mimo Baby Monitor
(click baby to enlarge)

 

Intel and Rest Devices also showed off a smart bottle warmer using Edison, which was said to reduce the size of the previous device by half. Rest Devices used a new set of mechanical/electrical libraries developed for the Edison by Autodesk for its 123D Circuits service, to help develop the device.
 

Intel goes wearable: smartwatch, bracelet, earbuds, headset…

Intel briefly demonstrated several other wearable products, including a smartwatch prototype, but it was unclear whether they were based on the Edison, the new 22nm Quark processor, or Linux. The smartwatch may well run Linux on the Edison, as it was presented as a WiFi-enabled, self-contained computing device, rather than simply a Pebble-like Bluetooth accessory to a smartphone. The smartwatch was touted for its geo-fencing capability, which gives users notifications based on location, and can be used as a sort of electronic security bracelet.



Intel smartwatch prototype
(click images to enlarge)

 

Intel also mentioned a separate “smart bracelet” concept device it is collaborating on with Barneys and fashion retailer Opening Ceremony. Barney will carry the device under the Opening Ceremony brand. The device is said to be based on “Intel technology.”

Also part of the smart bracelet collaboration is the Council of Fashion Designers of America (the CFDA). Intel is working with the CFDA to connect more than 400 CFDA-member fashion designers with an ecosystem of hardware and software developers. The initiative aims to “create a community for technology developers and fashion designers to network, match-make, cultivate and exchange ideas on wearable technology,” says Intel.

Several other demonstrated products seemed closer to market. These include a smart earbud reference design that incorporates biometrics and fitness tracking, in addition to providing stereo audio. Developed in collaboration with Valencell, which makes PerformTek Precision Biometrics sensor modules, the device monitors heart rate and pulse, and communicates via Bluetooth with fitness-oriented smartphone apps.

A smart headset reference design called Jarvis, meanwhile, places a tiny computer housed in a Bluetooth earpiece, complete with battery, speaker, and microphones. It’s equipped with Sensory, Inc.’s voice recognition technology, with features that ease always-on Siri-like interactions. For example, it lets users double-tap the device to stop the personal assistant from speaking, or enables the assistant to monitor user sensor data to determine the best time to provide information without interrupting.



“Smart” earbuds, headset, and wireless charging bowl
(click images to enlarge)

 

All these wearables can be recharged in Intel’s new smart wireless charging bowl reference design. Simply toss your device into the 10-inch diameter bowl, and let the A4WP-based magnetic resonance technology do the rest.

To help boost wearable development, Intel announced a “Make It Wearable” challenge [PDF] that will award more than $1.3 million in cash awards to the best wearable designs using Intel technology. The challenge will begin in the summer, with winners announced in January 2015.

Intel also said that it would protect its wearables with McAfee-based security. For the first time, Intel is dropping the McAfee brand, however, and will now call the products Intel Security. It’s a bit stodgy, but it saves Intel any unwanted subliminal connections with the colorful Mr. McAfee. A related security technology called Intel Device Protection Technology will ship later this year to help IT admins to secure Android smartphones and tablets within the enterprise.

According to the Verge, Intel also confirmed earlier rumors that its’ working on a technology to help ease one-click switching between dual-boot Android and Windows environments on Ultrabooks and other devices. Also at CES, AMD announced a partnership with BlueStacks, which makes the BlueStacks Android emulator for Windows. A new version of BlueStacks optimized for AMD’s upcoming ARM-based processors will let fullscreen or windowed Android apps run within Windows.
 

RealSense 3D camera and IVI partnerships

Beyond the wearables realm, Intel also announced a line of sensor-driven Intel RealSense products, starting with a RealSense 3D camera. The camera is billed as “the world’s first integrated 3D depth and 2D camera module that helps devices ‘see’ depth.”

The full-color 1080p camera will be built into a variety of Intel-based Ultrabooks, all-in-ones, tablets, and other devices, enabling the detection of “finger level movements enabling highly accurate gesture recognition” and ” facial features for understanding movement and emotions,” says Intel. Its ability to distinguish between foregrounds and backgrounds is said to provide opportunities to enhance interactive augmented reality or scan items in three dimensions.

Intel also announced a variety of partnerships with automotive companies [PDF], although it did not mention which Intel processors or devices were used. These include an Infiniti InTouch IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) system, a BMW ConnectedDrive navigation system, a Kia K9 IVI system, and some more future-looking IVI collaborations with Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota, respectively.

Jaguar and Toyota are known to be developing Tizen-based IVI systems. Intel reiterated its support for both Tizen IVI and the GENIVI Alliance, which supports Tizen in its reference designs in addition to other Linux distros.

Finally, Intel said that all processors it ships starting in 2014 will be “conflict free.” In other words, they will not include minerals that come from regions such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where wars and insurgencies are fueled by sales of metals such as tin and tungsten.
 

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