Intel offers a glimpse of the future

Putting the prog into programming...
Written by Ben King, Contributor on

Putting the prog into programming...

Intel's CTO Pat Gelsinger today announced Radio Free Intel - the slightly misleading title for the company's vision of a future not radio free but with radio on every chip.

In the future, Intel hopes every microprocessor it ships will have a radio system built onto the corner of the main silicon die.

This will be able to switch dynamically between any kind of radio access network, from a GPRS or 3G mobile data network to an 802.11 wireless LAN to a bluetooth network.

They would also be able to connect to ultrawide band networks. The FCC recently gave the industry the go-ahead to develop UWB, which Intel hopes to use as the basis of very high-speed, low range wireless system to replace USB cables.

Earlier at its Intel Developers Forum, the chip giant demonstrated a project called Skamania, allowing seamless roaming from a wired to a wireless LAN without interrupting an application. This will eventually be extended to the other network technology.

Gelsinger told the audience on the final day of the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, that Intel has worked out how to put "almost" every radio component of a wireless system such as bluetooth or 802.11 onto a single piece of standard CMOS silicon.

The key word is "almost", as some parts of a radio circuit cause very powerful interference, which makes it very difficult to fit them onto the same chip as a processor.

Gelsinger conceded that for a long time it may only be possible to build a single chip radio on to separate pieces of silicon, but that new packaging technology also announced by Intel yesterday would make this a viable solution.

If it proves to be impossible to build a single chip processor and radio, the solution may instead lie in Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems or MEMS - tiny structures built onto the surface of silicon wafers which are not transistors, and could massively increase the range of functions a chip can perform, including the building of radio circuits.

Ultimately, said Gelsinger, tiny processors called 'motes' could be deployed throughout the domestic environment and public spaces, from bathrooms to vehicle suspensions, all dynamically organising themselves into giant wireless networks.

To demonstrate the 'mote' network principle, giant inflatable balls with built-in processors were thrown out into the audience to bounce on delegate's upraised hands. As they bounced around the processors were dynamically reconfigured into a self-organising network.

A similar trick, involving a giant inflatable pig, was first deployed during Pink Floyd's 1977 Animals concert tour, silicon.com was reliably informed by a well-known UK analyst whose request for anonymity we must reluctantly honour.

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