Electrified employee? Don’t sweat it. It’s only a VR…

Above: Engaging learning at Intel. “Young people today live and breathe technology. It can’t be ignored”

Virtual reality (VR) is often associated with gaming and leisure. Intel, however, decided to take the technology in another direction – training employees (mainly in the operation and safety), as an alternative for the oldschool classrooms or educational software. Intel’s Corporate Services Learning & Development group is responsible for about 250 courses designed for large target populations at Intel sites around the world.

Adva Goldman, manager of the group, told Techtime that about 11,000 Intel employees receive every year an electrical safety course developed by her team. “We decided to develop new technological tools for tutorials, since studies have shown that experiential and active learning is significantly more effective than frontal lectures or the use of educational software that keep students passive.”

Accurate digital model of the electrical room

“Young people today live and breathe technology. That cannot be ignored. We must adapt to the environmental and technological changes,” said Goldman. “About eighteen months ago, we conducted an experiment: we developed a course in electrical safety with the help of Compedia, which takes place using a virtual reality accessory in which the employee personally experiences performing real tasks.

As part of the course, we created an accurate digital model of the electrical room at Intel. The employee will perform tasks similar to the ones he’ll deal with during his daily routine, such as maintenance activities but also will be asked to deal with new situations. We’ve designed the tasks with failures and challenges that the employees must identify and overcome in order to progress in the course.

Adva Goldman: “When the experience is very realistic, the knowledge will remain over time”
Adva Goldman: “When the experience is very realistic, the knowledge will remain over time”

“The experience is very similar to reality. As one of the electricians who made a mistake during the course told us: ‘Oh my God, I almost died. I will never forget it!’”. The course was enthusiastically welcomed and Intel has set up 6 VR rooms around the world. But then came 2020: exactly when it seemed that the training division at Intel had developed a successful method for training employees, the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily delayed the project. These VR rooms are now closed, since most of Intel’s employees are now working from home.

The game of training

But according to Adva, the group has not stopped working, and is developing additional VR courses for the day after the corona virus. Meanwhile the training team decided to take an innovative gaming approach: “We developed a learning experience in Ergonomics which is built in the format of a computer game that will be distributed to all Intel employees by the end of this month. We also exploring additional ideas, such as using a personal VR kit that can be sent to employees’ homes, and will replace some of the need for dedicated VR rooms. We also study the use of Augmented Reality combined with Virtual Reality. There is clearly a change in the perception of training at Intel.”

Intel and Lightbits Labs enter into a Strategic Collaboration

Above: Avigdor Willenz, founder of Lightbits Labs, Habana Labs, Annapurna and Galileo Technologies

Intel Corp. and Lightbits Labs from Kfar-saba, Israel, will co-develop new storage solutions for the data center. Intel announced an agreement for a strategic partnership includes technical co-engineering, marketing collaboration and an investment of Intel Capital in Lightbits Labs.  “The data center is being transformed,” said Remi EL-Ouazzane, Intel’s Data Platforms Group chief business development officer. “Our hardware capabilities coupled with Lightbits NVMe over Fabrics software gives our joint customers an exceptional economic solution.”

Lightbits NVMe/TCP protocol separates storage and compute without touching the network infrastructure or data center clients, and thus enables to reduce the latency of direct-attached NVMe SSDs by up to a 50%. Its LightOS provides a software-defines management of the entire distributed database. According to the agreement, Lightbits Labs will enhance LightOS for Intel’s technologies, to create an optimized software and hardware solution. The system will utilize Intel hardware solutions such as Optane memory, 3D NAND SSDs based on Intel QLC Technology, Xeon processors, Intel Ethernet Network Adapters and its FPGAs.

In addition to the technical collaboration, Lightbits and Intel are collaborating to provide complete solutions. They already started: Lightbits Labs demonstrated LightOS NVMe over Fabrics TCP (NVMe-oF/TCP) storage with remote direct memory access (RDMA)-class performance, when accelerated with the Intel Ethernet 800 Series Network Adapter with ADQ technology. It reported the results: up to 30% improvement in response time, up to 50% reduction in average latency and up to 70% throughput increase.

Founded in 2017, Lightbits Labs worked until mid 2019 in a stealth mode. Only in April 2019 and after raising $50 millions, it exposed it first product. The company was founded by the chairman Avigdor Willenz, the CEO Eran Kirzner and the CTO Sagi Grimberg. Avigdor Willenz is a serial entrepreneur. He is also currently the Co-founder and chairman of Habana Labs, which develops solutions for artificial intelligence and deep-learning computing and was sold to Intel in 2019 for $2 billion. Earlier in his career, he had co-founded Annapurna Labs (sold to Amazon for $370 million).

His first semiconductor’s exit was the selling of his startup Galileo Technologies Marvell in 2001 for $2.7 billion. Eran Kirzner came from PMC-Sierra where he served as VP for Software & Solutions in the Enterprise Storage Division. Sagi Grimberg came from Mellanox Technologies (now owned by NVIDIA). In his last position there he served as the Storage Software manager of Mellanox.

Intel to “Ignite” Startups in Austin, Texas, and Munich

Above: Intel CEO Bob Swan. “It has far surpassed our expectations”

Intel announced the launch of two additional Intel Ignite sites in Austin, Texas, and Munich, Germany, following its success in Tel Aviv, Israel. Intel Ignite is a startup growth program launched in 2019. It is a 12-week program for 10 early-stage startups that receive hands-on mentorship from Intel and world-leading experts. Participating companies will gain access to technology and business leaders.

“We launched Ignite in 2019 both to support early-stage companies on their journey to success and to provide Intel employees with an opportunity to advance our purpose,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. In its first year, the Ignite program’s achievements have far surpassed our expectations and because of its strategic impact, we are expanding its reach.”

Following Austin and Munich, Intel plans to establish the program in multiple cities throughout Europe, North America and Asia. Intel Ignite team chose Austin and Munich because both cities are home to Intel sites with top-tier startup ecosystems. The Ignite program in Munich and Austin will start in the first half of 2021. All three programs will have a physical base at the center of their local startup ecosystem.

Criteria for interested companies include a minimum of $1 million in funding (seed, series A), an experienced founding team, significant IP and a large market opportunity. Intel Ignite General Manager Tzahi (Zack) Weisfeld: “The startups we look for are fearless, pave new paths and are not afraid of taking bold steps. Intel employees engaging with the startups in Ignite are challenged to work more nimbly and creatively, and they gain perspective on how other companies and entrepreneurs operate, producing fast results and significant business outcomes.”

For more information: www.intel.com/ignite.

Intel may Outsource 7-nm Production

Above: Bob Swan, Intel CEO. “We have invested in contingency plans “

Intel took the market by surprise when it revealed last week a plan to intensify outsource production and to move some of its future 7-nanometer devices production to third parties. Immediately following the announcement, Intel’s shares in NASDAQ lost 16%. In fact, Intel published a very good Q2 2020 results: Revenues of $19.7 billion, compared to $16.6 billion last year. It also expects annual revenues of $75 billion in 2020, compared to $72 billion in 2019.

But Intel’s production difficulties overshadowed every thing else. Intel’s, CEO Bob Swan, published a prepared remarks about the issue: “We are seeing an approximate six-month shift in our 7nm-based CPU product timing relative to prior expectations. Our 7nm process is now trending approximately twelve months behind our internal target. We have identified a defect mode in our 7nm process that resulted in yield degradation.”

“Contingency Plan” means Outsourcing Production

“We’ve root-caused the issue and believe there are no fundamental roadblocks, but we have also invested in contingency plans to hedge against further schedule uncertainty.” Trey Campbell, Director of Investor Relations, gave a context during the earning call: “Our priorities in the ideal world is leadership products on our process technology. But the focus will be leadership products. So to the extent that we need to view somebody else’s process technology, and we call those contingency plans, we will be prepared to do that.”

In an answer to an analyst in the call, Swan explained that if the company decide to continue to do all its production inside, it will invest “a little more (in) 10-nanometer and less (in) 7-nanometer. In the event we decide that we’re going to leverage third-party foundries more effectively, we would have a little more 10 and a lot less seven. In the event we’re not there and there’s a better alternative, be prepared to take advantage of it.”

The conclusion is shocking: Intel does not lead the process race anymore, and it is also does not believe in its ability to provide full scale 7 nm production services for its own road map. In this case it has no other option but to outsource TSMC and Samsung, the global leaders in 7 nm process.

Intel Acquires AI Chipmaker Habana Labs for $2 Billion

Photo above: Habana Labs chairman Avigdor Willenz

Intel Corporation announced that it has acquired Habana Labs, an Israel-based developer of programmable deep learning accelerators for approximately $2 billion. Habana will continue to be based in Israel where Intel also has a significant presence and long history of investment. Prior to this transaction, Intel Capital was an investor in Habana. Habana chairman Avigdor Willenz will serve as a senior adviser to Intel.

“Habana turbo-charges our AI offerings for the data center,” said Navin Shenoy, general manager of the Data Platforms Group at Intel. “This acquisition advances our AI strategy, which is to provide solutions to fit every performance need – from the intelligent edge to the data center. Our combined IP and expertise will deliver unmatched computing performance and efficiency for AI workloads in the data center.”

Intel expects that the fast-growing AI silicon market be greater than $25 billion by 2024, and within that, AI silicon in the data center is expected to be greater than $10 billion. In 2019, Intel expects to generate over $3.5 billion in AI-driven revenue, up more than 20 percent year-over-year.

Habana's Gaudi AI Training Processor
Habana’s Gaudi AI Training Processor

Based in Caesarea, Israel, Habana labs was established in 2016 with Willenz as its first investor, and has developed dedicated chips for Deep Learning Training and Inference. Its Goya AI Inference Processor, which is commercially available, has demonstrated excellent inference performance including throughput and real-time latency in a highly competitive power envelope.

The Gaudi AI Training Processor is currently sampling with select hyperscale customers. Large-node training systems based on Gaudi are expected to deliver up to a 4x increase in throughput versus systems built with the equivalent number of GPUs. It is produced in TSMC’s 16 manometer process.

The acquisition gives Habana access to Intel AI capabilities, including deep expertise in AI software, algorithms and research that will help Habana scale and accelerate. In November 2018, Intel Capital led a $75 million investment round in Habana Labs. “We have been fortunate to get to know and collaborate with Intel given its investment in Habana, and we’re thrilled to be officially joining the team,” said David Dahan, CEO of Habana.

Intel and Microsoft Promote Security Standard for AI

Last week, Intel and Microsoft brought together nearly 100 security and Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts to discuss new standards for Homomorphic Encryption (HE), which is emerging as a leading method to protect privacy in machine learning and cloud computing. The HE standards workshop took place on Intel’s Santa Clara, California campus. Following the first meeting in October, 2018, Intel and Microsoft initiated the founding of the HomomorphicEncryption.org group.

As more data is collected and used to power AI systems, concerns about privacy are on the rise. Casimir Wierzynski from the office of the CTO of AI Products Group at Intel, said that Intel is collaborating with Microsoft Research and Duality Technologies on standardizing HE, “to unlock the power of AI while still protecting data privacy.”

Fully homomorphic encryption, or simply homomorphic encryption, refers to a class of encryption methods envisioned by Rivest, Adleman, and Dertouzos already in 1978, and first constructed by Craig Gentry in 2009. Homomorphic encryption differs from typical encryption methods in that it allows computation to be performed directly on encrypted data without requiring access to a secret key. The result of such a computation remains in encrypted form, and can at a later point be revealed by the owner of the secret key.

It allows AI computation on encrypted data, thus enabling data scientists and researchers to gain valuable insights without decrypting or exposing the underlying data or models. This is particularly useful in instances where data may be sensitive – such as with medical or financial data.  Homomorphic encryption also enables training models directly on encrypted data, without exposing its content. Such encryption would enable researchers to operate on data in a secure and private way, while still delivering insightful results.

Apple to Acquire Majority of Intel’s Smartphone Modem Business

Intel and Apple have signed an agreement for Apple to acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business. Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple, along with intellectual property, equipment and leases. The transaction, valued at $1 billion, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions, including works council and other relevant consultations in certain jurisdictions.

Intel will retain the option to develop modems for non-smartphone applications, such as PCs, internet of things devices and autonomous vehicles. “This agreement enables us to focus on developing technology for the 5G network while retaining critical intellectual property and modem technology that our team has created,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “We will put our full effort into 5G where it most closely aligns with the needs of our global customer base.”

In April, 2019 Intel announced intention to exit the 5G smartphone modem business. “We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan.

Following the Apple-Intel announcement, CEVA’s shares in NASDAQ rose by 14%, to $28.99. CEVA from Israel provides the IP for the DSPs in Intel’s cellular modems. This is an important market for CEVA. It was well clear when its stock price had fell 13.6% in April, after Intel’s CEO revealed the exit plan from the smartphone modems business.