Rewind back a couple years that the idea of wearable computing was something reserved for the realms of the ultra-geek and science fiction. Primarily this was a function of the amount of computing power and power capacity we could stuff into a gadget that anyone would be willing to wear as anything that could be deemed useful was far too bulky to be anything but a concept. Today the idea is far more mainstream with devices like Google Glass and innumerable smart watches flooding the market but that seems to be as far as wearable technology goes now. Should Intel have its way though this could be set for a rapid amount of change with the announcement of Intel Edison, a x86 processor that comes in a familiar (and very small) package.
It’s an x86 processor the size of a SD card and included in that package is a 400MHz processor (for the sake of argument I am assuming that it’s the same SOC that powers Intel’s Galileo platform, just a 22nm version), WiFi and low power Bluetooth. It can run a standard version of Linux and, weirdly enough, even has its own little app store. Should it retain its Galileo roots it will also be Arduino compatible whilst also gaining the capability to run the new Wolfram programming language. Needless to say it’s a pretty powerful little package and the standard form factor should make it easy to integrate into a lot of products.
By itself the Edison doesn’t suddenly make all wearable computing ideas feasible, indeed the progress made in this sector in the last year is a testament to that, instead it’s more of an evolutionary jump that should help to jump start the next generation of wearable devices. We’ve been able to go far with devices that have a tenth of the computing power of the Edison so it will be interesting to see what kinds of applications are made possible by the additional grunt it gives. Indeed Intel believes strongly in the idea that Edison will be the core of future wearable devices and has set up the Make It Wearable challenge, with over $1 million in prizes, in order to spur product designers on.
It will be interesting to see how the Edison stacks up against the current low power giant ARM as they have a bevy of devices already available that would be comparable to the Edison. Indeed it seems that Edison is meant to be a shot across ARM’s bow as it’s one of the few devices that Intel will allow third parties to license, much in the same way as ARM does today. There’s no question that Intel has been losing out hard in this space so the idea of marketing the Edison towards the wearable computing sector is likely a coy play to carve out a good chunk of that market before ARM cements themselves in it (like they did with smart phones).
One thing is for certain though, the amount of computing power available in such small packages is on the rise enabling us to integrate technology into more and more places. It’s the first tenuous steps towards creating an Internet of Things where seamless and unbounded communication is possible between almost any device. The results of Intel’s Make It Wearable competition will be a good indication of where this market is heading and what we, the consumers, can expect to see in the coming years.