Intel aims to get inside everything, not just PCs

Intel's chips now power all sorts of items you probably didn't expect: beer kegs, big-rig trucks, and wireless charging

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Credit: iStockphoto

Intel will never be as cool as Apple, and CEO Brian Krzanich will never be confused with Apple CEO Tim Cook, let alone Steve Jobs.

Although overshadowed by Apple's mega announcements on Tuesday, Intel this week managed to show off technology and products that were actually quite cool -- in one case, beautiful -- in disparate areas that demonstrate the increasingly broad reach of a company coming to grips with the twilight of the PC era.

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Taking the stage at its annual Intel Developer Forum, Krzanich highlighted partnerships and technologies in major lines of business that included wearables, the Internet of things, health care, and of course, the PC. Intel is even selling LTE chips to rival Samsung and has a reference design program for makers of Android tablets using Intel chips.

"We'll keep taking billions of transistors and placing them on processors. ... It's Intel end-to-end, going from the data center to the Internet of things," Krzanich said.

Coolest and most out of character is Intel's partnership with New York fashion house Opening Ceremony, which has produced a fashion-forward bracelet that is actually a wearable computing device called MICA, for My Intelligent Communication Accessory. MICA, which comes in two styles -- black snakeskin and pearls, and white snakeskin and obsidian -- has a built-in radio and, like the Apple Watch, will communicate messages and alerts via the wearer's smartphone.

It's not likely, though, that women wearing the pricey device (it will cost "under $1,000," an Intel rep told me) will use it to measure their heart rate and perspiration as they go out for a morning jog. But wearables are yet another area in which Intel can expand the market for its chips and where developers may find opportunities they never considered.

Intel's connecting a lot more than a smart watch
Intel stuck its toe into the market for the Internet of things about a year ago with Quark, a low-power, single-core, system on a chip (SoC) on a motherboard called Galileo. It now has a successor called Edison that features a dual-core SoC, along with support for Wi-Fi and expansion cards to bring in USB in a package not much bigger than a postage stamp.

The technology is being built into a wide range of connected products, ranging from silly-sounding items like the "connected loo" and cupcake dispensers to wheelchairs (one demoed on video by Stephen Hawking), big rigs, and medical devices.

Even an object that sounds goofy, like the iKeg -- a connected beer keg made by a company called SteadyService -- shows there's opportunity to bring the Internet of things and data analytics even to small businesses.

The iKeg is a sensor (containing an Intel chip, of course) that attaches to a beer keg. By monitoring its weight, it measures how much beer is left in the keg; when it is almost empty, it sends an alert to a server in the cloud, which then passes it on to a bartender's smartphone or the manager's PC. Software in the cloud can be used to track the popularity of various beers, how much is consumed, and how quickly.

A company called Vnomics makes a connected device that sits inside the cab of a truck. It monitors the performance of the truck and the driver, even suggesting when he or she should shift into another gear, a feature designed to improve gas mileage.

Goofy or serious, there will be hundreds of millions, maybe billions, of newly connected devices in the next decade, and it makes huge sense for Intel to be inside them.

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