Intel Shows VR Headset Prototype

Intel opened its annual developer conference with the demonstration of a virtual reality headset prototype called Project Alloy that it hopes will be built and sold by third-party manufacturers.

The chip maker also said it would work with Microsoft on virtual reality technologies and separately announced a fabrication deal with mobile chip designer ARM.

‘Merged reality’

Project Alloy combines aspects of existing virtual reality displays such as Oculus Rift and “augmented reality” systems oriented toward combining elements of the physical and digital worlds, Intel said, calling its concept “merged reality”.

It is a high-performance, head-mounted 3D display, similar in appearance to Oculus Rift, but unlike that and similar devices it includes its processing power in the headset itself, meaning it doesn’t need to be linked to a PC.

Alloy also includes a front-facing 3D camera that allows elements of the physical world around the user, such as people, walls or the user’s hands, to be displayed alongside digitally generated elements, Intel said.

That means, for instance, that users can interact with digital objects using their hands and can move around freely in a physical space, according to the company.

In that respect the headset recalls Glass, an eyeglass-mounted computer Google delivered as a prototype in 2014 and says it is continuing to develop.

Developer tools

“When sight and computing come together, it gives the device the ability to understand and respond to its environment,” said Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich during a keynote at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Intel said Alloy uses its RealSense camera and sensor technology and industry analysts speculated it may use processors that haven’t yet been announced.

The company said it is to provide Alloy hardware specifications and open programming interfaces to developers next year.

In the meantime, Intel and Microsoft said they are to collaborate on a specification for virtual reality-ready PCs and head-mounted displays, with the first version due for release at the Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC) conference in Shenzhen, China in December.

Microsoft has been developing virtual reality technology of its own, including the HoloLens headset and software called Windows Holographic, and said a Windows 10 update next year will allow mainstream PCs to use run the Windows Holographic shell.

New areas

Separately, Intel said it would work with ARM, which designs the technology used in most mobile chips, to allow ARM-based processor manufacturers to build chips using a next-generation process Intel plans to introduce next year.

Intel, whose fortunes are currently tied to the diminishing PC market, is currently exploring ways of moving into more promising areas such as mobile processors and advanced graphics chips for virtual reality applications.

Rivals such as Nvidia, AMD and Qualcomm have an edge over Intel in graphics chips, while Intel has to date failed to make headway against ARM in mobile processors.

Intel has recently invested in areas including wearable devices and drones.

In April Intel announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs by the middle of next year, with Krzanich saying the move was needed to focus on new strategies.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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