Intel Acquires Movidius – Enabling a “Cambrian Explosion of Compute”

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  September 7, 2016

Most early naturalists and geologists who studied the fossil record believed that what Charles Darwin eventually termed “evolution by natural selection” followed a steady, ever-improving upward path. But that was contradicted by singular events, particularly the step-change in the fossil record that occurred during the early Cambrian era when trilobites suddenly appeared without antecedents.

Darwin himself could provide “no satisfactory answer” to this phenomenon. However, subsequent research, including examinations of complex fossils in the Burgess Shale (events explored by Stephen J. Gould in Wonderful Life) popularized the concept of the “Cambrian Explosion” – a period of unusually abrupt, intensely rapid, radical evolutionary change.

What the heck does any of this have to do with the IT industry? Regarding Intel’s announced plans to acquire computer vision pioneer Movidius, Josh Walden, SVP and GM of the company’s New Technology Group, said, “Computer vision will trigger a Cambrian explosion of compute, with Intel at the forefront of this new wave … enabled by (Intel’s) RealSense in conjunction with Movidius and our full suite of perceptual computing technologies.”

That’s quite a claim, so it’s worth taking a closer look at Movidius, how it fits within Intel’s perceptual computing strategy and what it might mean to the IT industry and commercial markets.

Intel + Movidius

To start, Movidius says that its mission is, “to give sight to machines,” and the company pursues that via its Myriad 2 ultra-low power, always-on system-on-chip (SoC) visual processing units (VPUs), algorithms for machine/deep learning, 3D depth perception, tracking/navigation and user interfaces, and software developer kit (SDK).

That’s an impressive set of technologies for a start-up with roughly 180 employees (at offices in San Mateo, CA, Ireland and Romania) but the company is no slouch when it comes to customers. Movidius’ solutions play key roles in Google’s Project Tango 3D sensor tech, and the company is also working with Lenovo on next gen VR products and DJI on drones and aerial cameras with autonomous vision.

How will those existing and prospective customers react to Intel’s acquisition of Movidius? Probably positively, since Intel believes the company’s VPU technologies will significantly enhance its RealSense camera solutions and complement associated Intel strategic imperatives, including machine/deep learning, navigation and mapping, and natural interactions. Movidius will also bring Intel broad expertise in embedded computer vision and machine intelligence.

Bringing RealSense to fruition

In fact, Josh Walden stated that, “Movidius’ technology optimizes, enhances and brings RealSense capabilities to fruition.” Why is that the case? Because of the company’s singular innovations in vision processing power efficiency. Other vendors are pursuing computer vision efforts, especially those with graphic processing skills.

But achieving success, especially in highly mobile drones, aerial cameras and similar products, literally depends on the size, weight and power requirements of their compute elements. Excessive demands in any of these cases can result in reduced flight time, range, device weight and carrying capacity.

If the Movidius acquisition delivers the bang for the buck that Intel believes is possible, it could provide the means for the company’s RealSense technologies to fully take flight and soar high above the competition.

Final analysis

Does the deal, then, portend a “Cambrian explosion” in regards to Intel’s computer vision efforts and perceptual computing solutions? Quite possibly.

Despite its small size, Movidius achieved significant success technologically and among high profile customers. If Intel can effectively integrate the company’s intellectual and human capital within its own efforts, the future could be very bright. In fact, if the company fully leverages Movidius’ achievements along with its own substantial RealSense innovations, there could be nothing but blue sky ahead for Intel’s perceptual computing.

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