At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, no keynote address was more impressive than the one given by Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) CEO Brian Krzanich. Krzanich spoke for just more than an hour Tuesday covering a broad range of topics. But he curiously dedicated a significant chunk of that time to one innovation his company technically unveiled at CES last year: Intel's RealSense technology.
In short, RealSense offers the ability for electronic devices to understand and interact with the world in three dimensions. And yes, that's very similar to what Microsoft's Xbox Kinect sensor can do. But one key difference is that Intel's RealSense camera module is tiny -- it's less than four mm thick and weighs as little as eight grams. As a result, Intel has been hard at work during the past year improving RealSense and gathering partners to implement it into their own technology solutions.
Intel showed off a RealSense-enabled Dell Tablet, for example, that can understand touch-free gesture controls and refocus pictures after they're taken, all based on RealSense's ability to process depth and distance.
But perhaps the most exciting RealSense demo came when Krzanich invited iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) CEO Colin Angle on stage. Angle wasn't there in person, but instead appeared remotely through one of the company's Ava 500 telepresence robots:
That was a relatively simple demonstration, and it's worth noting Ava 500 can autonomously map, then safely navigate an entire office floor -- complete with moving workers and changing obstacles -- without human guidance.
But there's another reason the Intel-iRobot collaboration is so significant: iRobot isn't just another partner riding Intel's innovative coattails. In fact, though Angle noted in the video that it took just two weeks for iRobot to integrate RealSense into Ava 500, it appears iRobot has been planning this moment for quite some time. And it plays directly into Colin Angle's long-term vision for creating a robot butler of sorts -- one that can both manipulate a variety of physical items, for example, while safely navigating complicated environments without human assistance.
I even wrote about some of iRobot's more recent efforts with its dexterous iHY hand the day before Intel's keynote. And early last year, iRobot piqued my interest when management stated they were planning on incorporating their vSLAM (or "visual simultaneous location and mapping") intellectual property into future robots. Done properly, it would help iRobot's machines effectively navigate without relying so much on the same kind of bumpers, infrared beams, and acoustic sensors for which their popular Roomba vacuums are best known.
Here's what Angle said during iRobot's first-quarter conference call last year:
Today, the enabling technology Simultaneous Localization and Mapping, or SLAM, is costly as it requires lasers and significant computation. [...] Soon, a new generation of SLAM, visual SLAM, based on replacing lasers with low cost cameras will usher in a new generation of navigation robots. iRobot is a pioneer in vSLAM, holding exclusive access to critical technology, including many of the earlier filed patents in the technology, which positions us extremely well as the industry accelerates. It is our intent to continue to invest in this critical technology and the economic opportunities it unlocks.
In the end, through the combination of iRobot's "crucial" intellectual property and Intel's innovative 3-D RealSense cameras, it becomes evident the two companies are effectively working toward that industry acceleration Angle foretold. As a long-term investor in iRobot, I can't wait to see where else this partnership leads.