David Boundy is Director of IoT Innovation at Intel and I caught up with him at last October’s UXDX conference in Dublin to talk about how the opportunities Intel sees in the Internet of Things. 

Would I be right in saying that an organisation like Intel with such complex manufacturing processes wouldn’t be suited to an Agile workflow?

It depends. Intel is obviously a vast company with so many interests and if you look at our core products in terms of micro-processor and CPUs the lead time and the product roadmap, it’s not well attuned for Agile. It can take months of research and preparation before you get to produce your first test chip so you can’t then just go and tweak it.
The other side is that the products are designed in such a way that they have general purpose computing capability so they have a lot of flexibility. The way that flexibility is built in is through the software layer. We can design that software in such a way that even though we don’t know every use case for how it will be used we can provide the components and expose them in different ways.

So in that way we very much employ Agile in our software development. We try to use Design Thinking approaches by engaging heavily with our customers and their customers – in some cases our end customer can be 4 or 5 steps away from us. By engaging with them we try and understand their requirements and then feed those requirements back in to the software development process iteratively.

We’ve gone a step further and thought about how we can apply it to research – an area I’m involved in – and gained insights into how a product is being used and project how it might be used in the future and what it can enable. That means talking to people from academia straight through to the Maker space and secondary level students. That information is then fed back into our development cycle.

Intel wouldn’t normally be considered a customer-facing business but is that going to change with your IoT modules

Intel has very strong brand awareness and many are familiar with ‘Intel Inside’ but of course that is slipping as device usage changes. People may be using products with Intel technology but may not be aware of it because there is no sticker or branding to indicate it.

However there are some new products like a drone company we have which is Intel branded though it targets industrial rather than retail consumers.

We have RealSense camera technology which is a technology based around 3D vision that is branded Intel and while it’s a consumer product we don’t envisage a major shift were we become a consumer company.  We often partner with others like we did with watchmaker Tag Heur to create their Smart Watch.

It seems that we’ve been talking about the death of the PC for years and you touched on it in your talk but with IoT there must be so many more opportunities for Intel when household objects are fitted with a chipset.

We’ve been involved with IoT for a long time, even before it was called IoT, and are recognised by Gartner as one of the leaders in that. We’ve also been involved with industries from retail to energy working with partners on solutions to meet those industries’ needs. As IoT develops we see our involvement out just limited to the devices but also running into the data centre and network infrastructure were we have a strong footing at the moment.

We also have a number of different components that we can provide to the ecosystem such as Field Programmable Gate Arrays (programmable chips), memory, SSDs and software. We also have a heavy involvement in the open source community and we are key proponents of driving open standards. Intel, for example, was a founder of the Open Connectivity Foundation which puts in place specifications for IoT interoperability and there are are now over 250 members.

You spoke a little about the Joule chip module, a modular hardware kit that is accessible to software developers. Is this type of hardware abstraction where things are heading?

With the likes of Joule what we are really trying to do is taking some of that general purpose computing, packaging it up with the components that a developer may need and providing them with a simple interface in which they can harness the power of a full platform and not have to worry about the hardware engineering details.

Will it all go this way? Perhaps not because there will always be those with an in-depth understanding who want access to the raw processor at a low level. There are others however whose skills lie in a different area and don’t care about that detail and just want to make something. So in Joule we can provide a software development environment and user experience that enables a child, for instance, to develop on this platform.

This sounds a little like the start of personal computing when, at a time when computers required specialist expertise, a handful of people saw the potential to, as Bill Gates said ‘put a computer on every desk and in every home’, by making them accessible to everyone.

If you remember Bill Gates started with punch cards, there was no GUI. Where that went to in terms of the point and click interface and then touch showed that the software being developed was constantly abstracting away layers to make it easier to use.

We then have to ask ourselves will we get to point that software engineering will no longer be required? I don’t think so and while it is possible to abstract away certain things, ultimately the software is the blueprint for how the product is developed and delivered. However, there is a need to make these things accessible for different types of users.

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