Intel To Fund Research Into HCI, Social Networking, User-Centered Design

At the annual Research at Intel event, the company Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner announced Intel's plans for a new research division. This purpose of this new department, dubbed Interaction and Experience Research (IXR), is to "reinvent the computing experience in ways we can only begin to imagine." Supress your gag reflex long enough to keep reading—there's some very interesting stuff percolating under the heady odor of the PR department. We think of Intel as a technology company first and foremost, but the corporation is quite interested in other aspects of computing.
Better technology isn’t enough these days," said Rattner. “What the individual values today is a deeply personal, information experience...At Intel, we’ve been building up our capabilities in the user experience and interaction areas...We’ve recently assembled an outstanding team of researchers consisting of both user interface technologists and social scientists to create the next generation of user experiences. We’ve learned, for example, that the television experience isn’t the same thing as the Web experience, even though more and more TV will be delivered via the Internet. Browsing the Web at 10 feet is an experience few people relish, but television experienced via the Internet is a huge step beyond broadcast.
Intel fellow Genevieve Bell has been tapped to run this new division (we covered her thoughts on device design last year). According to her, IXR will focus on human-computer interaction (HCI) to design devices that fit the needs and wants of their target markets from the beginning, rather than eventually arriving at that point through several product iterations and a great deal of trial and error.

One of the representative prototype devices on display was an energy sensor meant to provide realtime feedback on home power usage. "When coupled with a home information display, it [the sensor] would monitor usage, recommend solutions for more efficiency and reward success. The sensor needs only to be plugged into the house wiring to instantaneously measure and wirelessly report the power consumption of each electrical load in the home, providing data to analyze energy usage of devices and appliances throughout. This technology forms the heart of a personal energy management system that could lead to valuable changes in behavior and save staggering amounts of energy."

This type of sensor sounds useful because it creates a direct link between energy conservation and projected cost savings. One of the problems with convincing people to change their habits today is the fact that it takes a month for the savings to appear on a bill. Toss in normal temperature fluctuations from month-to-month, and the impact of energy-saving behavior could be lost. With this sort of gadget, that's no longer a problem.

We also like the fact that Genevieve Bell is heading up the project. When we discussed her views on device design late last year, we noted her focus on creating devices that perform a given set of tasks well, as opposed to attempting to cram world+dog into a single carrying case. It's all well and good to create devices that are capable of serving as remotes, garage door openers, light switches, phones, day planners, and dishwashers, but someone on the team needs to be ensuring it's a gadget people will actually want to use.