LAS VEGAS — Intel’s event at CES last year was pretty epic, with flying drones and twisting BMX bikers wow-ing journalists and industry analysts at the big tech show.
But the company may have one-upped its news conference game Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas, as attendees had a chance to jump off helicopters, travel to Vietnam, watch a live basketball game, inspect solar panels from a drone, and more — all in virtual reality.
Intel set up individual Oculus Rift headsets with accompanying Intel-powered laptops in front of 260 leather chairs at a ballroom inside Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for its 2017 media event at CES.
As Intel employees and reps walked around helping people fit their headsets, the company warned that VR can cause motion sickness and even provided barf bags — yes, really!
“This is the most unique and technically complex event we have ever held,” said Laura Anderson, Intel senior director of corporate communications, just before the event kicked off.
— Taylor Soper (@Taylor_Soper) January 4, 2017
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich then spent nearly one hour taking folks through a series of virtual reality demos as a way to demonstrate the company’s investment and optimism for the nascent technology.
“This is going to be much more fun than a normal keynote or press event,” Krzanich said. “What I’m going to do today is try and show you how Intel is thinking about the future of this kind of technology.”
Krzanich talked about the immense amount of data needed for VR and said these new virtual, augmented, and mixed reality experiences are driven by Moore’s Law, an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 that stated how transistors on a chip double every two years or so. Krzanich said Intel is building 10-nanometer chips and will begin shipping those later this year.
Then the VR experience began at the Fisher Towers in Moab, Utah, where we got to feel what it was like to jump out of a helicopter with a parachute.
Next up was the “world’s first walkaround video experience” at the Ban Gioc waterfall in Vietnam. Krzanich brought up HypeVR CEO Ted Schilowitz on stage to talk about high fidelity video and how much data is required to produce such an experience. The Vietnam video was less pixelated and more life-like than the first video; there was much more dimension to animals and objects in your field of view.
Then Krzanich brought folks to an actual live stream from a drone camera that was hovering over a massive solar panel in the Mojave Desert. He talked about how virtual reality and drone technology can be used in work environments, particularly dangerous ones or in search and rescue scenarios.
“Having 260 eyes helping search with a 360-degree view will be much quicker to find somebody than sending people out into the field,” the CEO noted.
Krzanich shifted to sports next, an area where Intel is investing heavily. Showing the fruits of its Voke acquisition last year, Intel did another live demo, this time taking people into an actual college basketball game — Villanova vs. Butler — where the company had cameras set up inside the arena. It felt like we were actually there, similar to what other companies like NextVR offer.
“Viewers will get to decide what seat they have,” Krzanich said. “That’s the future of sports viewing.”
He even said that Intel is thinking about how fans can catch a virtual t-shirt while watching games in virtual reality, with someone showing up at their door a second later with an actual t-shirt.
Then Krzanich went to gaming and brought out the latest version of Intel’s Project Alloy, an untethered “merged reality” headset that he said will “productize” in Q4 of this year. Intel is working with “top OEM partners” and is committed to “making Project Alloy an open platform,” Krzanich said.
He showed how people can play games inside their own living room, turning real-life furniture into virtual objects.
Finally, with a demo that generated the most reaction, Krzanich showed a trailer for horror game Arizona Sunshine, which ended with a virtual zombie jumping at attendees.
As you can see, this was not a typical press conference. Krzanich said Intel wanted to show people where this new technology is headed.
“We have a lot more coming,” he said. “We believe Intel is leading this unprecedented change and will make this vision a reality.”
In a new blog post Krzanich penned today, the CEO wrote that “I truly believe virtual and merged reality are going to exceed our expectations.” From the post:
“When I look into a VR headset, I see new worlds of opportunity for travel, work, and play. I believe VR will be about far more than playing games. I believe it will radically enrich people’s enjoyment of sports and entertainment by transporting them into the middle of the action. Through the combination of advanced drones, cameras and computer technology, I believe VR has the potential to save lives during search and rescue missions or after natural disasters; and the potential to make millions of people’s workplaces safer by letting employees conduct dangerous inspections from a safe distance.
The implications? Unlocking the data will transform industries and enhance almost every aspect of our lives – be it education, entertainment, or other experiences like travel.”