You might not have heard of Movidius — even though we said it was a chipmaker to keep your eye on back in March. It makes computer vision chips that allow devices to see and respond to the world around them. It’s a capability that Intel is increasingly interested in, so Intel is purchasing the company for an undisclosed amount.
Movidius powered the first generation of Tango devices, which consisted of Android tablets (and later phones) that were able to map their surroundings in real time using an array of specialized cameras and sensors. The company’s follow-up act was a much bigger deal: helping make DJI’s Phantom 4 drone better able to sense and avoid obstacles.
In a post about the acquisition, Movidius CEO Remi El-Ouazzane says that plan is combine his company’s expertise in on-device hardware with Intel’s cloud computing and AI. He also says that Movidius will "remain focused," and a spokesperson for Intel tells us that all of Movidius' 180 employees will be "integrated" into Intel's Perceptual Computing group.
Intel, for its part, sounds a lot like Intel in its blog post. "Computer vision will trigger a Cambrian Explosion of compute," writes Intel SVP Josh Walden. But it’s no surprise that Intel is interested in picking up a chip company that’s focused on computer vision, because Intel has had computer vision on the brain for awhile now. Intel started demonstrating sense-and-avoid drones back in 2015 and has been aggressively pushing its RealSense brand. Here’s a module for robots it showed last month, and here’s a VR headset that also does 3D tracking in space. Intel also acquired another computer vision company, Itseez, back in May.
Intel says it "will look to deploy the technology across our efforts in augmented, virtual and merged reality (AR/VR/MR), drones, robotics, digital security cameras and beyond." That’s not a small list of product categories and very few of them have proven themselves out in the mass market in a major way. But if any of them do, Intel obviously intends provide the chips that power them.