SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Intel Corp. will invest $100 million in U.S. university research over the next five years, but there's a hitch. Other companies may or may not be allowed to participate in the focused centers it aims to create.
The investments represent as much as a five-fold increase in Intel's university spending. It will fund targeted research centers only in the U.S., typically at $2.5 million per year for five years, the first focusing on a visual computing center at Stanford.
Intel plans about six Science and Technology Centers on topics including mobility, security and embedded systems, inviting proposals from universities interested in what it calls a new lab model. Unlike past Intel Labs centers, the new investments will be for centers in which Intel provides about four full time staff, has a say in the center's research agenda and a voice in what other companies, if any, participate.
In addition, Intel business units can request to send staff researchers to the centers to work on specific projects.
For Intel the model provides an opportunity to engage a wider net of top university thinkers in ways that enhance the chance it will gain useful outputs. The universities get a significant injection of research dollars, but risk getting too tightly allied to a single company's agenda.
"We had a lot of discussion about this," said Pat Hanrahan, a Stanford professor who will co-lead the new visual computing center with an Intel counterpart.
"Intel wanted the research to be open and address what we thought were the fundamental issues, so there has never been any pressure to not do what we think is the best research," Hanrahan said.
He noted that the group convened a workshop of Intel and academic researchers that defined the new center's four broad themes and several specific projects under them. The topics include real time simulation, exploring ways to more easily create visual content, image recognition, immersive worlds, augmented reality, smart cameras and programmable graphics.
"Most of the industry funding we get is for our most wild high impact, high risk research," said Hanrahan. By contrast, "government funding has become somewhat more short term," he said.
"These are not closed labs," said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer. "We are already in discussions with industry partners, but we are not at the point we can go public with their participation—we are open to other companies and state and federal government groups," he said.
"If we can act as the seed and attract more support we won't object to that," Rattner said. "We want to encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and we don’t want to over-specify the mission of these centers," he added.