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The best of Intel Developer Forum 2016

From wire-free VR to built-it-yourself drones, we give you the best bits of this year’s IDF

Intel has long been known for its innovations in the chip industry, whether that's churning out the latest processor architectures, or upping the ante in data centre chips to give servers the brawn to power the world's biggest businesses.

But all that's changing. While Intel is still very proud of its foundations built on a revolution in transistor technology that have ushered us forward into an innovative future, it seems that with every year, the firm's attitude and focus is shifting away from just a creator of processors and more towards a provider of platforms.

As a result, with every annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) that the company hosts, it becomes evident the chip giant is less about new processors and more about enabling innovations of the future for developers.

This year was no different. Hosted in San Francisco, IDF 2016 was all about enabling advances in VR, 3D camera tech and drones; technologies that are already prominent topics in the tech industry. (Although, in true Intel style, there was still mention of the firm's upcoming chips.)

Here's a summary of the best bits of IDF 2016:

Wire-free VR

The biggest announcement at IDF was indisputably Intel's new virtual reality headset, which is completely wire-free.

Called Project Alloy, the headset merges the real world with a virtual one and thus is part of "a new type of virtual world" that the company calls a "merged reality".

Powered by Intel's Real Sense 3D camera, Project Alloy operates without any tethered cords dangling between the VR headset and a PC, as the computing power is located in its Head-Mounted Device (HMD), allowing a free range of motion with 6 degrees-of-freedom across a large space. This, combined with collision detection and avoidance, enables the wearer to make use of physical movement to explore a virtual space.

In addition to the freedom of a cableless virtual reality experience, Intel's Project Alloy tracks your hands and feet via its built in Real Sense camera sensor while you're wearing the headset so that you can interact with virtual objects. For instance, it will detect your hands in the real world and integrate them into the VR environment, so you can see your real hands as your walk around the virtual world.

Build-it-yourself drones

Intel not only announced that you can now buy one of its obstacle-avoiding drones that were first seen at CES for a bargain price of $1800, but you can also make one yourself with a new 'Ready to Fly' platform.

Powered by a fresh Atom CPU-based development board that Intel has created called Project Aero, the Ready to Fly platform lets you create your own bespoke sky robots with cameras and sensors. This can now be pre-ordered for $399, with the full drone reference design shipping early next year.

A sneak peak at the next gen Core processor

Despite its shift away from being just a chip company, one of the first things Intel couldn't wait to tease us with was its upcoming 7th generation Core processor.

Touted on stage by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich as its "highest performance CPU Intel has ever made", the 7th gen Core CPU (previously codenamed Kaby Lake) is said to make 4K videos more readily accessible to everyone, providing deeply realistic, crystal clear images and videos with no lag.

The processor will apparently ship globally in PCs as soon as this autumn. But don't go holding your breath, as Intel has seen delays in its chip production schedules before.

Driverless BMWs

Shortly after announcing Real Sense 400, a new and improved version of its Real Sense 3D camera seen in many of its products, from PCs to drones, Intel invited Elmar Frickenstein on stage, BMW's head of Autonomous Driving Program, to talk about self-driving vehicles.

Here, Frickenstein talked up Intel's "next big usage case" for Visual Intelligence thanks to the smaller Real Sense 400, which features a doubled operating range. Frickenstein said with this technology, BMW will be able to create fully autonomous vehicles by as early as 2021.

360 video will be future of movies

Using the same tech as seen in its 360 Replay technology (a high tech multi-angle cam tech which is built into lots of US based sporting venues and let's you watch live sports games from any angle) Intel announced a production studio in Los Angeles called TXL Labs. This, it said, will be where movies will be created so that we can watch them from multiple angles in real time. The firm's CEO said it will be the beginning of 360 video in cinema and will revolutionise how we watch films.

Faster internet browsing with laser light

Perhaps not quite as exciting sounding was the news that Intel has finally started volume production of Silicon Photonics, a technology which uses laser light, built directly into computer chips, to speed up the data centres.

After over 15 years of R&D, Intel said Silicon Photonics is now in volume production in the form of two optical transceiver products, which will transfer data at 100 gigabits per second, roughly 100 times faster than home Wi-Fi. There will also be a next-generation version that will quadruple that to 400Gbps "within a couple of years".

The first truly smart toothbrush

Last but not least, Intel announced Joule, a tiny next-generation DIY platform-on-a-board with RealSense cameras built for wearables.

To show its capabilities, they brought out the winners of the company's "America's Greatest Makers" show with their gaming toothbrush, the Grush, which gamifies toothbrushing for kids. They said the device will start shipping by this year's holiday season.

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