Three Big Themes From The Heart And Head Of The Silicon Industry

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AMD’s Darren Grasby lays out his view on the year ahead

I feel fortunate that as part of my job, I have the opportunity to preview some of the latest in cutting-edge technologies from around the world. Very often I am asked what I see as the ‘next big thing’. And here is my dilemma.

My heart lies with those technologies that I’m passionate about – those that I believe can potentially make a huge difference to our daily lives. But equally my head leans towards technologies that are commercially viable and are at a stage where they are ready to enter our lives.

It’s this balance between the heart and the head that has led me to make my top-three big computing predictions for 2016. These predictions are naturally based on developments I have seen in the wonderful world of silicon, but their success may well lay the foundation for the next decade of computing.

Mainstream Virtual Reality (VR) goes Vertical

virtual realityAs we have seen in this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Virtual Reality is beginning to hit the mainstream. I see this as a pivotal moment in technological development, for reasons I shall explain later, but for now we need to look more closely at how VR’s development will take shape.

As a gaming fan, my heart would no doubt say this is where VR will reach the masses, in both PC and console. Appetite for more powerful graphics and immersive gaming experiences continues unabated and I expect this to become even stronger in the next year.

Nevertheless, my head tells me that the challenge facing VR in the gaming space today is the amount of content. This will undoubtedly change as developers become comfortable with its application. From a software perspective, interest in AMD’s LiquidVR™ technology is strong, but the price-point of hardware appeals predominantly to high-end gamers. But we should also take a moment to consider how VR is beginning to transform industry.

VR has for many years been strong in industries such as defence and aviation, seeking to create a more natural and intuitive way to interact with technology. When you then look across other verticals such as education and medical research you’ll see why VR is ripe to transform these industries.

For example, GE is already using AMD technology in their “Neuro VR Experience” project that enables a user to enter a full recreation of British musician Reuben Wu’s brain, exploring in real-time as he processes thoughts and responds to various stimuli. Even in the third sector, we have seen the United Nations use VR to connect with donors at an emotive level, so they are able to see life on a refugee camp.

In 2016 I predict we will see more innovative uses of VR such as these take off in the vertical sector, demonstrating its broad commercial appeal.

Servers and PCs give rise to The Internet of People

wearable-techAs someone who is constantly on their smartphone, my heart would say anything that further personalises the computing experience is a good thing.  Here the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is undeniable and will continue to grow as the industry discovers applications.

However what we must not forget is there are also consumer benefits. Fundamentally, individuals rely on these devices and the data produced to improve their daily lives. I believe this will become clearer in the year to come.

On the consumer side, my head pulls me back to the challenges that need to be overcome on the device and sensor side of IoT before meaningful predictions can be made. The most obvious is the current debate around technology and interoperability standards, which amongst many things impacts price and in turn affects IoT business models. Fragmentation and disparity in standards is thankfully being addressed but is likely to hold back mass adoption for the next year at least.

Commercial implementation is a different story all together. One area of where there is a lot of IoT interest is in the datacentre. The argument is pretty straightforward: success in deploying billons of data-gathering devices will be determined by how effectively we can store, analyse and deliver meaningful insights from this data for use by people and businesses. Here the killer app for IoT is high-power, energy-efficient computing in the datacenter. This is what I predict will be the growth driver of IoT in 2016.

I also see PCs and laptops playing an important role in the year to come. This may seem surprising given the headlines of a gradual industry decline in recent years, particularly in the PC sector. However, when you look more closely at the numbers by hardware types and segments, you’ll see that there are some bright spots. In the next year, we are likely to see increased refresh cycles of PCs and laptops in the commercial space driven by adoption of the Windows® 10 operating system.

Alongside this, we continue to see growth in the specialty or custom PC space amongst high-end, power hungry users who demand more from their machines. All combined, PCs and high-end small form devices remain an essential piece of technology for both consumers and businesses.

Immersive, ‘mirror-like’ experiences

Darren Grasby_AMDMy third prediction is that this year we’ll begin to see graphics technology break boundaries. We’ve talked about VR making its debut into the mainstream consumer world, but we won’t be completely satisfied until we get ‘mirror-like’ experiences.

Even if we take VR as it is today – if you look under the bonnet at the technology that’s driving the latest generation of headsets, you see that the pixel requirements are up to double the previous generation of headsets. But it remains the fact that what the eye can see in a display today is a small fraction of what it can see in the outside world.

Imagine a world where we get 3D graphics that can support 16K screens – some 16 times the pixels on what you would get on most modern day TVs. Now imagine this being delivered at an immense refresh of 240Hz – four times the typical monitor – fooling our minds into thinking that we have been transported into another world, not viewing a screen.

My heart says this vision sounds like a fantasy, but technological trends such as VR becoming a ‘reality’, and the pace at which screens are gaining pixels, are making this immersive, ‘mirror-like’ experience achievable. From a silicon perspective, this is rapidly driving the demand for high performance discrete graphics, or in other words, graphics which are powered through dedicated processing.

Let’s not forget that a screen with 16k by 16k resolution and 120Hz equates to a phenomenal pixel rate of 6 billion pixels per second. Moore’s Law alone won’t help you achieve this – the industry must be disruptive in its approach. My head says that we will see some of these disruptive forces emerge from the silicon industry this year.

Heart and Head of Silicon

So there we have it. Three big predictions that no doubt carry a number of smaller outcomes in the next year and beyond. In my new role as president of AMD in EMEA, I will be watching these play out with interest in the region and globally. You may well have a different view on each, but either way, 2016 promises to be yet another exciting year. One thing for sure is that all these trends will be fuelled by the heart and head of the silicon industry.

Darren Grasby is President EMEA at AMD.

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