Intel's research in Europe is broad, deep and long-term. It ranges in scope from nanotechnology up to wireless communications, networking and more abstract topics such as cloud computing, financial computing and health care delivery.
ILE's nanotechnology activity is centered in Ireland, where it has four wafer fabs on its Leixlip campus. The research covers such topics as alternative circuit patterning using self-assembly, memory structures using magnetic layers, applications for carbon nanotubes in interconnect, and metal oxide research for logic applications (see story, page 28).
In Braunschwieg, Germany, Intel researchers are working on multiprocessing; their ILE counterparts in Barcelona, Spain, are experts in compilation. Intel has four labs in Russia: in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk and Nizhny Novgorod. Today the Russian team contributes to software projects based on strong competencies in compilers, binary translation, parallelization, simulation, multimedia and codecs, graphics, CAD, and Java.
Going abroad: Intel's research activity is broad, deep and long-term, making the U.S. - based chip giant the leading semiconductor research company in Europe.
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In 2008, Intel already had about 800 engineers engaged in research in about 15 laboratories across Europe, so the formation of ILE had partly to do with reorganizing Intel's EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) research under a single management structure. But it was also about opening up Intel to more collaboration, particularly within Framework Program 7, the European Union's financially supported R&D initiative. To that end, Intel has established "open labs" in Munich and Leixlip to enable and host participation in FP7 projects with European companies, startups and universities.
Penn nonetheless remains wary of Intel's intentions: "Setting up R&D doesn't cost that much, and Intel gets a good return on the people. But as soon as the research gets out of the blue-sky phase, it gets sucked back into Portland, [Ore., home of Intel Technology Development,] and the door bangs shut."
Research meets policy
So was the relabeling of Intel's research in Europe merely a cosmetic exercise, or has it resulted in extra investment and more research? Curley responded by saying he "would rather talk about outputs than inputs," then fired off a list of new Intel projects in Europe: development of the Rock Creek 48-core chip for parallel processing research; the Visual Computing Initiative, formed in collaboration with Saarland University (Saarbrücken, Germany) via a five-year, 10 million-euro (about $15 million) commitment made in May; and Intel's role in the establishment in Paris of an "exascale" computing research center--a multiyear, multimillion-dollar commitment that teams Intel with the French Atomic Energy Commission, the French National High-Performance Computing Agency and Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University.
"There are about 20 FP7 projects Intel is involved with," Curley said. "Where we [once] had one or two engineers working on FP7, we now have about 30 people, and we are on course to double that by the end of 2010."
Intel opened its first European office, in Brussels, back in 1969. Why has it suddenly gotten religion on collaboration?
"We had labs that were performing well, but we realized the whole could be greater than the sum of the parts," said Curley. "We wanted [to have] a single research entity and to present a single face to the European Union. The relationships with several DGs [European Commission directorates general] have made huge progress. We now get to collaborate on proposals and policy discussions."
Singling out the DG responsible for research and innovation, Curley said: "We wanted to try and connect the impact of the movement of electrons with societal aspects of life. This was very much in line with the EU's Lisbon Strategy."