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Intel Research Day ponders location, gesture tech

The chipmaker's annual science fair for its researchers shows the company is thinking about where technologies just now coming to consumers will be now and years in the future.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Intel's main business is churning out the chips that power everything from huge server farms to the tiniest mobile devices. But it's also focused on who, how, and where the devices of the future are going to be used.

That was the theme here at Intel's ninth annual Research Day held Wednesday at the Computer History Museum. Once a year, Intel's researchers get the chance to show off their forward-thinking projects in a science fair-style exhibition. But in a kick-off speech to open the event, Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs, said that his labs have a new focus: how users experience technology.

Part of thinking about users' experience means thinking differently about how to develop new technologies within Intel Labs. It means looking for what kinds of problems people have when interacting with computers or cars, or household tasks and coming up with solutions, Rattner said. "There's a growing sense that this is a powerful way to drive innovation. Rather than bottom up (style) where we have a new memory technology or I/O technology, (and look for) what you can do with that," he said.

That's why earlier this week the company announced an addition to Intel Labs, called the Interaction and Experience Research division, led by Intel Fellow Genevieve Bell, whom Rattner introduced Wednesday.

Bell said her division will use social science, anthropology, and more to look at how people use technology. That means her researchers will be working on things like touch and gesture inputs, haptics, 3D, and "things I don't think we even know how to talk about yet," Bell said.

On display at the fair following her brief talk were technologies enabling everything from robots, location-aware devices specifically for sharing social media, 3D cars, vehicles that can text you if someone tries to break in, and tablet PCs augmented to act as surface PCs. Click on the gallery above for more detail from the fair.