Intel: Sentient mobile devices will understand users

At the Intel Developer Forum, the company announced it is working on sensors enabling mobile devices to understand human behaviour and give guidance to users

Intel is working on technology that is capable of understanding human behaviour and guiding users on appropriate courses of action.

The mobile devices of tomorrow will be smaller, yet equipped with more powerful computing capabilities, and enjoy platform-wide power efficiency, Mary Smiley, Intel's director of emerging platforms, said on 'day zero' of the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

A key feature of such devices will be sensors that provide the ability to understand the world of the users, as well as the "situational awareness" to provide guidance.

"Tomorrow, [those devices] will have such a deep understanding of you, they will scream out what's important to you," said Smiley.

At the heart of connecting the physical and digital worlds are sensors, Andrew Chien, vice president of the corporate technology group and director of Intel Research, noted in his presentation on sensing technologies.

Chien highlighted several research projects, including an initiative known as 'everyday sensing and perception', or ESP, which began in the fourth quarter of 2007.

The idea behind ESP is to make computers become more aware of their users and context in everyday activities and environments, he said, adding that Intel and its partner academic researchers aim to achieve 90 percent accuracy for 90 percent of a typical person's daily life. Such technology involves a range of capabilities, from low-level sensing to high-level understanding that can interpret movement, emotions and words.

One research application of ESP is to identify activities using visual object recognition, which involves the use of "egocentric video", captured by a mobile camera worn on the shoulder. At present, the automatic system can achieve between 75 percent and 90 percent accuracy as concerns seven objects; Intel hopes to scale this up to hundreds of objects and video hours, said Chien.

One challenge, however, is power efficiency, Chien pointed out. Real-time video event detection currently requires about four teraflops and consumes 10kW of power. In future, Intel hopes to lower power consumption to less than 1W on a handheld, he said.

Intel also plans to connect the physical and digital worlds via the virtual world, using visually rich interfaces.

Jim Held, Intel fellow and director of tera-scale computing research, noted that there are over 2,000 virtual worlds today, and many are merging with popular social networks. Augmented reality — combining real-world information with data overlays — is also evolving, he added, with mobile augmented reality becoming more "compelling".

However, connected visual computing demands more from servers, clients and networks, said Held. To that end, Intel's research in this area will cover four broad areas: platform optimisation, distributed computation, visual content and mobile experience.