Information Week reports Intel researchers are working on self-powered sensors that draw power from the environment they're in. These "install-and-forget" kind of microchips can be used for plenty of purposes, including for taking measurements of the environment or advanced health monitoring.
"We could, in fact, litter the planet with these things," he said. "Rather than depend on satellite information, we could literally get instantaneous, near-global indication of the state of the planet."
Self-powered sensors could one day go into the human body to monitor health-related activity, such as the beat of a heart. If researchers could shrink detectors to the molecular level, they could one day be capable of detecting viruses in the environment to determine the potential health risk.
Within the data center, sensors could be used to map the heat levels of the different systems in order to create a "thermally aware load management" system, Rattner said. Systems that are running hot could have some of their workloads shifted to idle systems, thereby lowering the overall temperature, which would lower the demand on cooling systems.
Along with sensors, Intel labs is experimenting with the use of microchips to gather energy from other sources, such as the sun or the movement of a trackball in a smartphone, to recharge a battery in a mobile device.
"Wouldn't it be nice if you could go almost indefinitely without recharging the battery?" Rattner said.
For Intel, sensor technology "might turn into a business opportunity" in the future, Rattner said. But a lot of the other experimental technology is likely to be licensed for use by other companies and not necessarily end up as separate Intel products.
These technologies are under development in Intel labs and are unlikely to hit the market for at least three to five years. The article also briefly discusses the work Intel is doing to make computer power supplies more efficient. Intel CTO Justin Rattner says Intel is working on a power management technology that would let a microchip regulate power in a PSU microsecond by microsecond, this is expected to boost efficiency to 90%.