SAN FRANCISCO – Intel's New Devices group had its coming out party on the first day of the Intel Developer Forum. The current star of the year-old group is Edison, a wireless PC the size of a large postage stamp that is the first of what the new group hopes are many platforms for the consumer Internet of Things.
Intel gave attendees the $50 module and a development board for free. It hopes the Maker movement of amateur tinkerers and engineer hobbyists spark enthusiasm for the x86 in emerging consumer IoT markets.
The current Edison is an upgrade from the initial concept which Intel first announced in January at CES. At that time, Intel said it was based on Quark, a new Pentium-class processor for IoT that, strangely, Intel rarely mentioned at IDF. Early testers said the initial Quark processor and single-antenna 802.11g wireless link in Edison were too slow.
So the current version officially released today sports a version of Intel's 22nm Merrifield smartphone processor. It includes two 500 MHz dual-threaded Silvermont-class Atom cores and an older Lakemont-class core that acts as a sensor hub, scrubbing noise from accelerometers and other sensors. It now includes a Broadcom 11n Wi-Fi chip with dual antennas.
The module now supports Linux. Intel ships Edison with a version of its Yocto distribution, originally targeting servers. The code which some developers got just weeks ago is still buggy, some say.
In a sign of how quickly Intel is moving, some developers said its only been three or four weeks since they got their hands on the current version of Edison and the version of Yocto it is running.
Having largely missed the smartphone opportunity, Intel is clearly stepping on the gas to get ahead of the game in consumer IoT applications, hoping to get traction in sometimes viral Maker projects. “We have to make it so you don't have to have a PhD in electrical engineering to make something,” said Mike Bell, general manager of Intel's New Devices group, introducing Edison.
That said Intel also rolled out two development boards for the module so “you can prototype and not have to redesign the board to go into production,” Bell said. One board (below) is compatible with the Arduino Yun, accepting design files popular in the Maker community.
In just the last four weeks, Sparkfun Electronics has developed 14 stackable boards for Edison. They use a somewhat obscure Hirose 3mm connector that is on order and may hold up commercial availability of the Sparkfun boards for about six weeks, said a Sparkfun representative here.
So far, Intel has spawned about 40 Edison projects, many of them internal Intel efforts. In the following pages we take a look at some of the initial Edison partners and projects.
Beyond Edison, the New Devices group hopes to spawn many SoCs, platforms and even full end products with cloud services for wearables and other consumer IoT applications. For example, the group has has in its arsenal the Basis wearable and team behind it, acquired in late March. Intel will ship an upgraded version of the Basis device this year. It also is making the guts of the Basis device available as merchant components.
Intel has other wearable and IoT projects in the works with watchmaker Fossil and others. However it revealed few details about whether they will use Edison, components from Basis or other x86 platform ingredients still in the works.
Gene McKelvey, a Fossil marketing and strategy executive on hand, was one of several who called for smartwatches and jewelry more tailored to the tastes of women than today's relatively clunky gadgets. “We've done smartwatches for a decade and tech has not quite been there in function, size and battery life, we are not quite there yet but we are very close — it's almost there,” he said.
Mathew Woolsey, executive vide resident of digital products at retailer Barneys, said he sees technology components that work together spreading into fashion shoes, bags and anything. “You have to build an ecosystem – it’s not like a jacket you wear everyday,” he said.
David Garver, a representative of AT&T’s emerging devices group, said wearables that provide access at work, home and in the car will be hot. “Getting the right information and doing something with it will turn this area of wearables from novelties to necessities,” he said.
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