Project Al­loy to save PCs?

The jury’s still out on whether any­one’s go­ing to buy In­tel’s VR vi­sion, though. Mark Hach­man re­ports

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

Your PC is bored. Your smart­phone is, too. While you’re read­ing this story, your dig­i­tal de­vice is twid­dling its thumbs, wait­ing for you to do some­thing. When a smart­phone can of­fer enough com­put­ing power for most tasks with­out break­ing a sweat, you can un­der­stand why PC sales are plum­met­ing – and why In­tel is so en­am­oured with vir­tual re­al­ity.

In­tel an­nounced the Project Al­loy vir­tu­al­re­al­ity head­set at its In­tel De­vel­oper Fo­rum (see page 6), as well as the next-gen­er­a­tion Kaby Lake mi­cro­pro­ces­sor. Kaby Lake PCs are sched­uled to ship in the au­tumn. In­tel ex­ec­u­tives po­si­tioned both an­nounce­ments in the con­text of VR: Al­loy for con­sum­ing VR con­tent, and Kaby Lake for pro­duc­ing it.

Pin­ning the PC’s hopes upon VR

A few months ago, In­tel ex­ec­u­tives be­gan pro­mot­ing vir­tual re­al­ity as the lead­ing edge of the PC, es­pe­cially VR head­sets such as the Ocu­lus Rift that de­pend on the PC for their pro­cess­ing power. “Vir­tual re­al­ity is very com­pu­ta­tion­ally in­ten­sive, and if In­tel can cre­ate a re­quire­ment for more com­pu­ta­tion­ally in­ten­sive ap­pli­ca­tions, then guess what? That works for them,” said Nathan Brook­wood, prin­ci­pal at In­sight64, an mi­cro­pro­ces­sor an­a­lyst firm.

In­tel ex­pects the worlds of vir­tual re­al­ity (the Ocu­lus Rift) and aug­mented re­al­ity (the HoloLens) will even­tu­ally merge. That’s what In­tel’s lat­est project, Project Al­loy em­bod­ies: a de­vice that pri­mar­ily

projects a vir­tual re­al­ity en­vi­ron­ment around the user, but in­cor­po­rates as­pects of aug­mented re­al­ity, too.

Al­loy uses a pair of RealSense cam­eras to ‘see’ phys­i­cal ob­jects like a user’s hand, and project them into the vir­tual space. “We think this is go­ing to be big,” In­tel CEO Brian Krzanich said dur­ing his IDF key­note. “It’s so dif­fer­ent than any­thing else that’s out there right now.”

Be­gin­ning in the mid­dle of 2017, In­tel plans to open-source the Al­loy hard­ware, so any of its tra­di­tional hard­ware part­ners can jump on the band­wagon. It runs on Win­dows Holo­graphic, the Microsoft op­er­at­ing sys­tem that pow­ers its HoloLens. Also mid­way through 2017, Microsoft plans a free up­grade to Win­dows 10 that will let Win­dows Holo­graphic de­vices in­ter­act with the Win­dows 10 PCs.

It’s easy to imag­ine what both In­tel and Microsoft hope will hap­pen next: de­vices such as Project Al­loy be­come the next big thing, sell­ing mil­lions of PCs with In­tel mi­cro­pro­ces­sors and Win­dows 10 li­censes. Al­loy and its cousins will be­come PCs you can strap to your face.

It al­most sounds like Project Al­loy could be In­tel’s ver­sion of the Microsoft Sur­face – a game-chang­ing prod­uct that could lead the way into an en­tirely new cat­e­gory of prod­ucts. But it’s still not clear whether Al­loy rep­re­sents a prod­uct unto it­self, or just a ref­er­ence de­sign that the com­pany will pro­vide to its part­ners.

An un­cer­tain fu­ture

If this all sounds like a des­per­ate at­tempt to latch on to the lat­est trend, you’re not alone. Unit sales of VR de­vices aren’t ex­pected to take off un­til 2018 or so, if that, ac­cord­ing to Jon Ped­die Re­search. And it’s un­clear what will drive the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try un­til then.

In fact, we ac­tu­ally have a bet­ter idea of what will drive the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try af­ter VR de­vices: self-driv­ing cars. BMW ex­ec­u­tives ap­peared on­stage to re­veal their plans to ship cars that al­low a driver to take his or her eyes of the road by 2020 or 2021. Also, Ford re­cently an­nounced plans to build fully self-driv­ing cars in the same time­frame.

As In­sight 64’s Brook­wood noted, the amount of sil­i­con and in­tel­li­gence a self­driv­ing car re­quires vastly out­weighs what to­day’s au­to­mo­biles re­quire. Prod­ucts that re­quire so­phis­ti­cated pro­ces­sors to crunch mas­sive amounts of data pro­vide op­por­tu­nity to raise In­tel’s pro­file once again.

The bot­tom line, though, is that a self-driv­ing car sells it­self. Vir­tual re­al­ity? Merged re­al­ity? The jury’s still out.

There is hope, though. Kath­leen Ma­her, an an­a­lyst with JPR, said the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of vir­tual re­al­ity in the work­place and the home aren’t yet fully un­der­stood. “It’s been a big wake-up call for me, that vir­tual re­al­ity re­places the ab­strac­tions we’ve been us­ing, like pages and text,” she said. “That’s a re­ally long-term view, but In­tel has to be think­ing of the long term.”

Ford plans to triple its fleet of au­ton­o­mous re­search ve­hi­cles in 2016, and triple it again in 2017, on its way to mass pro­duc­tion of self-driv­ing cars by 2021

Project Al­loy

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