Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich showed off a pair of robots on Wednesday, claiming that one of them, powered by its embedded Edison processor, would be available for sale by the end of the year.
Intel executives also showed off a prototype “smart shirt” that would replace a sensor mounted on an elastic band, that could be worn by bicyclists or other athletes. It connects to a prototype smartphone app, communicating real-time EKG data.
Intel has made it clear that it hopes to be a player in the mobile space, inside notebooks, phones, tablets, and the galaxy of embedded devices known as the Internet of Things. So far, unfortunately, Intel has delivered little more than promises and some intriguing demonstrations. On Tuesday, for example, Intel said it would partner with Rockchip, an ARM chip licensee, to distribute versions of its Atom chips to Asian customers beginning next year. And Krzanich appeared at the Consumer Electronics Show to show off a pair of “smart earbuds” that will be powered by Edison, the next generation of the Quark embedded processor line.
On Wednesday, Krzanich showed off “Jimmy,” (above, top) said to be a $16,000 research robot powered by a Core i7 chip. Jimmy, a much more charismatic robot than the small black doll that Krzanich is seen cradling in the clip below, walked onstage, introduced himself, did a bit of a dance, and then sat down.
It’s the smaller black robot that will cost $1,600 and come powered by the Quark chip. What that can do, we don’t know—it will apparently be powered by apps. And you’ll print everything—besides the actuators, motors, and other mechanical parts that Intel will sell you—on a 3D printer.
The smart shirt is also in prototype form, although at least it apparently works. Intel executive Mike Bell showed it off, communicating data through an embedded computing module, then wirelessly out to a smartphone.
What this means, of course, is anyone’s guess. Intel showed off a smart onesie at CES that does approximately the same thing, plus a smartwatch, a “charging ball,” and other devices. As prototypes and reference designs, they’re useful examples of what the Edison line can do. As examples of consumer products, however, they’ll need to be more fully fleshed out.
Reportedly, the $1,600 robot will be sold in conjunction with a book — which means, cynically, that you’ll probably never hear of it again. Intel doesn’t have the best record of wandering into the consumer market: The company’s efforts to build an over-the-top streaming TV service, known as OnCue, sputtered and died. Intel sold OnCue to Verizon in January, presumably for its patents.
Intel, however, finds itself at a crossroads. While it cruises comfortably on a sea of processors for the PC, server, and notebook, the embedded market takes it into deep, turbulent waters. It remains to be seen whether Intel can stay its course.