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IDF: Intel inside Band Aids

Chip maker lays out its vision of future of technology outside the PC

Intel is a name most closely associated with the processors we find inside our PCs, but it has big ambitions to escape these close confines and get its technology into products as diverse as armchairs and socks.

In the closing keynote of this year’s Intel Developer Forum, chief technology office, Pat Gelsinger, along with Intel’s researchers into social sciences and biotechnology, laid out a picture of the future where humans will be surrounded by intelligent devices monitoring their every move.

From a factory setting where sensors will track your movement around the floor, downloading context and location sensitive information wirelessly to your handheld, to a home environment where you TV could remind you to take an allergy pill or prompt you to take more exercise, Intel plans to plant its technology throughout society.

While the technology to allow these all pervasive devices may still be in the lab right now, the company anticipates that the infiltration of this type of scenario could be a little as 10-15 years away.

Eric Dishman, who heads up Intel’s proactive health research team, outlined how such technology could help the world deal with the problem of its aging population. The company is already testing intelligent sensors that could help older people and those with cognitive disorders stay in their own houses rather than be sent to a nursing home.

Ideas that Intel is working on include a phone that could detect if you collapse and automatically call the emergency services and devices that can locate you in your home and send a message to remind you to take a pill to the nearest available device, such as television screen.

But Dishman sees the technology as going further than simply helping people deal with disease, but also helping to identify disease in its earliest stages. He suggested that sensors could be used to carry out gait and path analysis, which can help to detect conditions like Alzheimer’s.

Dr Andy Berlin, director of biotechnology research, backed Dishman up, illustrating how this type of convergence research between silicon technology and biology could ultimately be used to create health monitors that could be built into everyday devices. He cited examples of a pair of socks that could warn you if you are about to get a blister or a bathroom mirror that spots the early stages of skin cancer and prompts you to get treatment — or even a smart Band Aid, that tracks healing.

"My dream is to be able to use silicon to analyse blood to detect the early stages of cancer years before you can now when it is still easy to treat", explains Berlin.

When questioned about the privacy implications of devices that allow computers to note where you move around in your house or how much exercise you take, Dishman, said that he felt the benefits would outweigh the costs.

He believes the technology will allow diseases to be caught earlier, and ultimately help an aging population to stay in their homes and that is worth the invasion of privacy.


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