LONDON -- There is no doubt that the formation of Intel Labs Europe early in 2009 was a strategic initiative. ILE today covers the waterfront with more than 20 labs and some 900 active researchers, focusing on everything from single atoms and atomic layers to the social-networking needs of an aging population. (The precise numbers depend on whether you include the Middle East and Israel in the tally.)
Intel signaled its strategic intent for ILE last year when then-chairman Craig Barrett and CTO Justin Rattner traveled to the European Parliament in Brussels for a special seminar on European research, innovation and competitiveness.
Intel Labs Europe calls its innovation agenda Digital Europe and has aligned it with the aims of the European Union for an innovation-based economy and a better-connected society. Implicit in this is more partnership (historically, not Intel's strong suit), along with government strategies for broadband deployment, PC purchase programs, digital literacy programs and online services.
Researchers at the Tyndall Institute in Cork, Ireland. Tyndall is one of two Irish research institutes where Intel does much of its
nanotechnology research collaboration.|
"ILE is a network organization--a new platform for Intel doing research and innovation in Europe," said ILE director Martin Curley, who is also professor of technology and business innovation at the National University of Ireland (Maynooth) and Intel's global director of IT innovation.
In an interview with EE Times, Curley said the labs' mission is to advance Intel Architecture research, development and innovation and to partner with European stakeholders to improve European competitiveness. "We have a mission to go beyond sand and circuits to systems and society, and our digital health research initiative is an example of that," he said (see story, page 26).
If you're still skeptical about Intel's prospects beyond computing, you might have to readjust your perceptions. Intel's research network in Europe alone is vast and goes well beyond the PC. Much of that research is precompetitive and collaborative, but it tends to be broader, deeper and longer-term than that of Intel's rivals. And a hard-pressed European bureaucracy is actively seeking the company's input.
Of course, Intel's relationships with European interests are not all sweetness and light. Early last year, even as ILE was being announced, Intel was facing the possibility of billion-dollar-plus fines from the European Commission for the alleged abuse of its market dominance in microprocessors. Penalties were levied against Intel in the spring.
Historically, Intel's R&D activity has been a somewhat insular affair, according to Malcolm Penn, chief executive of market analysis firm Future Horizons (Sevenoaks, England). Intel did collaborate with academics, Penn said, but it engaged in relatively little peer-to-peer collaboration, considering itself "above cooperation, [which comes] with a price: You have to show what you are doing, and you have to seek agreement."
Of course, the world's largest chip company has always been able to finance its own research into manufacturing processes and processor architectures. "Intel is the leader in the field, so they have more to lose and less to gain," said Penn.
Nonetheless, in January 2009, Intel beefed up the collaborative strand of its R&D in Europe, focusing on remote services in such areas as health, education and government. Most of the research is strictly precompetitive, and Intel's definition of precompetitive is stricter than most other companies'. But it is no coincidence that these are areas of great interest in Europe, which is struggling to cope with the impacts of globalization, climate change and an aging population.
What ILE brings Intel, Penn said, are "access to the community and [a reputation as] a good European citizen."