Intel Plans $100 Million Investment In Technology Research Centers At U.S. Universities

Intel on Wednesday said it will invest $100 million toward research aimed at developing computer technologies, particularly visual computing, at universities in the U.S.

Intel's funding will set up several Intel Science and Technology Centers over the next five years. The first ISTC, located at Stanford University, close to Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., will focus on visual computing.

Intel Labs, the chipmaker's academic research division, will foster collaboration with academia by providing researchers in the U.S. with up to five times more funding than it has previously, while encouraging collaboration between universities, Intel said. The goal is to ultimately create a distributed collaborative center with Stanford and Intel as the hub and the participation of institutions such as U.C. Irvine, U.C. Davis, U.C. Berkeley, University of Washington, as well as Cornell, Princeton, Harvard universities.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Intel CTO Justin Rattner said Intel is looking to raise the bar by increasing investment in what he called "the information economy." He said Intel believes in driving economic recovery by investing during downturns.

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"The universities have been hard hit, and there have been major cutbacks in both public and private universities," Rattner said. "Intel wants to do its part to help them get beyond the recession, toward recovery."

Intel will limit its investment to U.S. universities for the foreseeable future but plans to enable broader engagement across a number of academic institutions, Rattner said. .

"The first of these centers at Stanford will reach out and touch seven universities with a particular focus on visual computing technologies," Rattner said. "The primary goal is to drive improvement in the user experience, with a whole variety of user devices that will emerge over the decade." In preparation for this investment, Intel Labs has begun funding open collaboration centers near research universities, each of which will receive $2.5 million in funding annually over the next five years, which Rattner said will go directly toward faculty, graduate students and full-time researchers. That figure does not include any of the Intel researchers who will be affiliated with these institutions, as part of Intel's commitment to bridging what Rattner called a "gap" between academic research and the market for technology. Rattner later gave the example of Google, which began at Stanford, and has since had tremendous commercial success.

"We want to create a climate for research to make an impact on technology. So often great ideas never go from the academic setting into the market," Rattner said. "We want to install that sense of community in each of these institutions."

Next: Open-Ended Goals, Specific Timeframe

Rattner said that by becoming closely involved in academic research, Intel will encourage unexpected, new thinking and will avoid being overly-specific, so as not to preclude inventions and innovations from occurring. The centers will be funded for a fixed length of five years to give Intel the flexibility to address new areas of technology as they present themselves.

"We wanted to define a specific time for the center," he said. "At the end of those five years, we expect a review of the progress we've made and a determination of whether it makes sense to renew the center, continue on that track, or maybe create a new center maybe with different leadership and an agenda that reflects both the research environment and the business environment.

"We didn't want this to be an open-ended thing and then wake up one day and say, 'this isn't needed any longer.' This is consistent with the way academic research institutions are funded by government agencies," he said.

Research at each of the seven Intel Science and Technology Centers will be guided by a pair of principal investigators, one from Intel and one from the university. Jim Hurley, senior principal engineer at Intel Labs, will lead the project along with the chief scientist at the first ISTC, Stanford Professor Pat Hanrahan.

During Wednesday's conference call, Hanrahan described the center's vision for visual computing and the PC ecosystem in general. He said new platforms and rich, immersive user experiences are emerging while older, traditional devices such as laptops are being revolutionized with the introduction of more fluid interfaces.

Hanrahan said that the project began when Intel challenged the visual computing community to select for the project technology that offers the largest pay-off, the greatest effect on people's lives. He then outlined four areas of research that Intel believes meet those criteria.

"Because this is a fairly large project, they're giving out funding in much smaller parcels in much shorter time frame than in the past," Hanrahan said. "We're being encouraged to be more ambitious, which is going to lead to a lot of ideas that will be commercialized."

Hanrahan discussed plans for research focused on how to simulate people, human behavior, light, motion, and sound in order to create a complete immersive experience in real-time. Intel will focus on content creation that builds creative tools, allowing devices such as phones and cameras to create augmented reality and process information intelligently, he said.

Hanrahan also described plans to digitize cities and buildings, although he acknowledged that each of these goals requires a daunting amount of computer power, which in turn creates the problem of power-efficiency.