Intel's most interesting research ideas: super efficient VoIP and more

Intel Labs showed off 45 research projects at its research day event yesterday — projects that ran the gamut from energy efficiency to digital living room applications. We’ve already written about the linked virtual worlds for scientists and the Dispute Finder plug-in that highlights disputed facts in stories. Here’s a handful of other interesting projects the company showed off.

1. Intel’s researchers in Oregon showed how they cut the amount of bandwidth consumed by voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) calls on a WiMax network, which is a long-range version of a typical Wi-Fi wireless network. It can do so by grouping a bunch of VoIP calls together in a kind of group package, deleting the redundant information, and then sending the package out over the Internet. That gets rid of wasted bits associated with individual VoIP calls.

Intel researcher Vijay Kesavan showed that a WiMax cell site could accommodate 216 callers using the technology, compared to just 160 without it. In effect, it cuts the bandwidth usage of the VoIP calls by 40 percent. That’s a big deal because wireless carriers face big problems as revenue from voice calls plummets and costs of delivering data are rising. The WiMax standards group has adopted the technology, and it could be built into the WiMax 802.16m protocol.

intel-22. One of Intel’s big efforts is to promote netbooks, the small devices that are bigger than phones but smaller than laptops. To spur usage, Intel wants to integrate them into both the home and the work place through something it calls Carry Small, Live Large. One of the projects involved a collaboration between Steelcase, the furniture maker, and Intel.

In this scenario, you will have a couple of big displays at your office and then a touch-screen display in the middle of a big round desk. You can pull out your mobile phone or netbook, and they will do a wireless handshake with the office system. You touch the screen and drag an image from your netbook to the office system and then your netbook screen will be connected to the big displays. You can do the same with the phone and fetch a bunch of data.

It uses a wireless technology dubbed IP Multicasting and the networking hardware is powered by an Intel Atom microprocessor. It operated fairly slowly. But the point is to make it much easier for people to plop down in a chair and immediately begin working, said Terence West of Steelcase.

Intel calls it “dynamic composable computing” — referring to the ability to connect to networks on the fly — and it works the same way in a living room, where you can go to a friend’s house, log into their network, and then show the pictures on your cell phone on a big display in the living room.

3. Intel is also pouring a lot of resources into making computers more trustworthy. Researcher Nina Taft showed off a system dubbed “malware triage.” With it, a corporate network can identify viruses, worms and other attacks and dispose of most of them. But when it encounters unique malware that has never been seen before, it catches it and forwards it to an IT automated analysis center.

That center will let the virus run its course in an isolated computing environment. The center and its analysts will observe the behavior of the virus and classify it. Most of this can be done in an automated fashion, minimizing the amount of time analysts spend on each incident. That’s important, with 4,000 pieces of malware arriving every day. Intel is working with antivirus software vendor McAfee on the project.

4. Another security focused project is a no-brainer: encrypted Wi-Fi. If you’re working at an airport or a Starbucks, too often your laptop is unprotected from prying eyes. That’s because most Wi-Fi communication is unencrypted. People can easily spy on your usernames and passwords unless you actively protect yourself. Intel researcher Anmol Sheth says the answer is to encrypt any bits transmitted over the wireless connection. That isn’t easy because it involves the creation of a new Wi-Fi protocol that the industry has to adopt. Sheth has been working on it for two years and an industry-wide study group is working on it, with help from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Washington.

5. Consumers also need protection on their own computers. Privacy Scope is another project aimed at protecting a consumer’s private information. It monitors your credit card and identity information and notifies you whenever a web program or any other software attempts to send that information over the Internet. You can give your permission or deny it. It tracks where our sensitive information is stored on the computer, said researcher Jaeyeon Jung. Intel is working on it with the University of Washington and the University of California at Berkeley.

6. Glen Shires of Intel had the clever idea of improving speech recognition accuracy by combining it with face recognition. This might work well in areas such as a kitchen, where giving speech commands might be easier than typing on a keyboard. The computer’s webcam could capture your face movements. If you are looking at the camera and talking, it will start trying to decipher your speech. Then it correlates the sound it hears with the movements of your mouth. It worked well when Shires asked Google to search on the word chocolates. But it couldn’t recognize “VentureBeat,” and Shires said it doesn’t work well yet with proper names.

7. Project Cable Beach is aimed at allowing users to log into a variety of virtual worlds and online games without re-entering all of their identity data or credit card information. Researcher John Hurliman said the idea of creating a universal identity that works across games makes a lot of sense. It could tap into technologies such as Facebook Connect or OpenID. But it could also go further than that, allowing for the transfer of digital assets from one world to another.

The latter could be a pretty revolutionary thought. It’s sort of like how you take your phone number from mobile carrier to mobile carrier, except this involves taking your avatar, or game character, from one world to another. IBM and Second Life have been doing research on this topic as well.

Most game worlds use vastly different types of character and property formats. What works in one world won’t work in another. There are security issues. Hurliman said it may in fact not be possible to get commercial worlds to connect together, but Intel is already pretty far along in getting scientific virtual worlds to connect and collaborate.

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