Movidius: Making the Chips that Power 3D Image Processing

Movidius is a silicon chip company company that is headquartered in Dublin, with operations in Belfast, Romania and Hong Kong. The chips that they create are especially designed to bring the best 3D video experience to mobile phones, tablet computers and consumer products.

The vision for Movidius came from their CTO, David Moloney. He had been doing some research around high-performance computing, and came up with some architectural ideas for new processors that would have a very large amount of computing power with very low power consumption. This could be extremely useful to the mobile computing market as there is only so much power for a given battery size.

That opens lots of opportunities for applications to migrate to the mobile format that were previously only possible to run on PCs.

As well as being a flexible technology that can be applied to lots of different applications in mobile devices, the underlying architecture delivers a very compelling solution for the 3D application area.

There are some quite sizable companies involved in this area, and the CEO of Movidius, Sean Mitchell, explains how they plan to handle themselves in this marketplace, “The strategy that we have approached the market with is not to compete the likes of Invidia or Texas Instruments directly.

“They focus on the main processor within the phone — the application processor. We have developed our chip to be a co-processor that can assist that main processor in delivering its new applications.

“For example, with 3D video, we would be attached to the main application processor, but we would take control of both of the cameras in the system and we would do all the 3D processing. So we are kind of an additional accelerator to boost the performance of the main processor.”

An example of how Movidius products can enable 3D camera—phones be seen in the following video:

Sean continues, “We are complementary to their offering, but they have an ongoing development program themselves so we have to keep ahead of that progress in the main processor and keep offering new stuff.”

The traditional approach to chip manufacturing is to continually up the speed of the processor, but there is an upper limit governed by the need to deliver larger amounts of power to drive them.

Sean says, “Because increasing the processing speed was fundamentally not the way to go – not because of processing but because of power issues – we have adopted a different approach which is a highly parallel, multi-core architecture. It delivers massive computing power but at a much lower level of power consumption per operation.

“We are operating at quite modest clock rates but using much more intelligence in the architecture to deliver the workload.”

Sean is looking forward to showcasing the technology they have at the ITLG/Irish Times Awards, “There’s nowhere else in the world like Silicon Valley where the network connections are so strong. Business is done between people so it is important to make those connections.”

Movidius is one of seven Irish companies that have been invited to the Technology Company Showcase at the 4th Annual Silicon Valley Technology Leaders Awards. It is being held at Stanford University on April 5th and is being sponsored by the Irish Times.

Over the weeks leading up to the event we at Technology Voice will be doing articles on all seven of the companies that are showcasing their technology.

Arduino: A Big Revolution in a Small Package

Having shipped over a 120,000 boards since their inception in Italy in 2005, Arduino microprocessors are becoming increasingly popular beyond the usual circle of tech heads and dedicated do-it-yourselfers. To help me find out why this may be I talked to Darren Tighe, who is currently working on his own Arduino projects.

The first significant aspect of the Arduino is its accessibility. Darren explains, “ Well it’s a microprocessor and traditionally they come in a little package with a couple of pins on them. To program them, play around with them and learn how to use them you would have to plug it into a programmer… and then unplug it and put it on to whatever project you were working with.
Whereas the arduino uses an Atmel chip which is a fairly common micro-controller but it’s set up for proto-typing. So it gives you a USB port so you can just program directly from the PC and it has lots of in and out ports for the electronics to be attached.”

The programming is done by using Arduino Sketch an off shoot of Processing, a language developed by the MIT Media Lab specifically to make programming easier and more accessible for people who would not normally want to, or think they could not, take on the task of learning a full blown programming language.

As Darren says, “They are used by a lot of artists who want to use LEDs in their art. Just to control them, to drive all the LEDs and send them into different patterns.”

While making technology relevant and usable to wider and wider sections of the population is undoubtedly a good thing Darren argues that this not the main reason for the Arduino’s success.

“I think the revolutionary part has nothing to do with what it actually is but with what people are doing with it. People are going out and saying “what can I hook this up to?” They’re playing, they reverse engineer, they hack away. Then they’re going back to the community and saying is there anything else I can do? I think the revolutionary thing is the community that has built up around it.”

The community seems to be the key. Arduinos come with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic licence alongside the Copyleft GNU General Public license. These agreements encourage sharing of knowledge gained and lessons learned. The Arduino’s existence and the way it is shared is creating the community that is creating things.

“There’s nothing brand new and innovative about it but the way people use it, that’s brand new and innovative. There is a huge amount of information on the web, a big community backing it up, all posting up what they are doing with their Arduino. How they’re doing it so you can learn from what they are doing.”

There is no ‘killer app’ in the Arduino world. Darren goes on to say, “It has an enormous amount of flexibility and an enormous amount of utility. You can turn it to almost any project you have in mind. If you need any level of any automation or you need to give your project a bit of a brain so that it knows what it’s doing rather than you having to tell it everything then the Arduino is ideal.”

Through hardware like Arduino and programming languages like Processing and Arduino Sketch it is now possible for more and more people from a range of different backgrounds and disciplines to be given access to the tools to turn an idea in their head into physical reality. We can reasonably expect to many new and varied applications for the Arduino micro-controller come over the horizon.

Jogo: Interactive Play in an Interactive World

Click on image for video of Jogo in action

Play is an essential part of a person’s development from a child into an adult. Robert Hughes says that our biological drives are “genetic rivers, whose primeval forces come from deep within us and that play, as a drive exists to help children make sense of their immediate worlds.” One can’t help but intuitively accept this observation even without all the evidence that supports it but a question does need to be answered and that is what constitutes healthy play that aids positive development and growth in the individual? (It’s not only children that need to play.)

We can’t send children to play on the streets anymore to find and make their own entertainment. The times and social mores have changed too much for us to go back to that. Yet those concerned with how children are growing up know that constant interaction with a computer screen is OK as far as it goes but is no replacement for the wild rides of the imagination that can be construed from old cardboard, discarded bric a brac and a bit of space to move around and make some noise.

Emma Creighton has been working on a project called Jogo, (the Portuguese word for play), which marries technological innovation with real world social interaction.

“I wanted to create something to bring back this free spontaneous play. Moving away from computer play. I wanted to make something that would bring old and young together, playing together and creating their own play. I wanted to explore how embedded technology could encourage these playful interactions.”

Jogo conists of a circular table with four rings of sixteen holes laid out concentrically. Each hole represents 1/16th of a musical measure and pitch varies on distance from the centre. The sound is defined by the placement of multi-coloured table tennis balls being placed over the various holes in combinations limited only by the player’s imagination. At the base is a camera which was pulled from a play station which looks up at the holes and can recognise the colours of the different balls. Each colour generates a different note. There is also some additional lighting present to aid the camera in picking out the colours.

The form of the table was defined by Emma’s idea that, “A tabletop is a natural social space and I use the circular shape because it can be approached from all directions. There’s no head of the table, it’s circular and everyone is on a level playing field.”

While the project is still ongoing, initial research took three months of focus groups and watching children and, just as importantly, adults in the play environment. Emma points out, “There are no social boundaries with children but adults would be more wary with interacting with strangers. So I wanted to create the same sort of play first talk later that children would to bring about this new social interaction.”

It took another month to build the Jogo displayed in this article. Emma learned computer vision code to hack the PlayStation camera and the project itself is programmed in Processing a programme specifically designed to make coding a more accessible process for the ‘visual design communities.’

As well as being naturally interested programming she also felt it was important for the project to understand the process and have more control. On her experience with arduino which she will be using for a hardware version of the project she says, “the program is quite usable even if you are not technical minded yourself. It’s a good introduction for creative people to get into making things talk.”

In the case of Jogo this is technology facilitating the experience of play. A table tennis ball is a tangible object that is familiar and easy to use and by choosing a particular colour of ball and a place to put it sound can be produced. There is no game of Jogo as such. It is open-ended in nature. One can invent as many rules or form of play as one likes. Or not. Just let the balls fall where they may and enjoy the results.

Emma says, “ It’s quite meditative. It could be used in therapy situations as it is quite soothing. It was interesting that people were saying that they enjoyed seeing other people playing with it or hearing other people play with it.”

As more ways, such as Processing and Arduino Sketch, become available and make seemingly difficult programming tasks more accessible to non-programmers or people who would not normally consider themselves as remotely techy all sorts of possibilities can come into existence.

Ideas can cross-fertilize in these newly created pastures of possibility. Talents from different disciplines can come together in ways previously unimagined and maybe essential activities like play and socialisation will become reinvigorated by these new developments.