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Business Impact

Intel Buys the Company That Gives Machines “The Power of Sight”

By buying the startup Movidius, Intel hopes to get a piece of the action in computer-vision chips.

Having missed out on the mobile chip market, and lagging behind in supplying the hardware for the burgeoning field of AI, Intel wants to acquire its way to the vanguard of the next emerging trend. Its latest move: buying up Movidius, a firm that makes computer vision chips used in drones and smart devices.

The self-stated mission of Movidius, one of MIT Technology Review's 50 Smartest Companies of 2016, is to give machines “the power of sight,” a goal they primarily achieve using their “vision processing units.” The chips have already found their way into drones made by DJI, where they are used to sense and avoid obstacles, and Google’s augmented reality system Tango.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich goes for a spin in some Movidius-powered gear.

In a statement, Movidius cited Intel’s RealSense technology as a reason why the deal was a good fit—Intel was already on the path to advanced computer vision using its own 3-D cameras. Josh Walden, a senior vice president at Intel, says software as much as hardware makes Movidius useful to the company. Movidius’s deep-learning algorithms are tailor-made for computer vision, and Walden says Intel sees great promise (read: big bucks) in the realm of devices that can see and make sense of their surroundings.

Nvidia, which dominates the market for deep-learning-focused chips, is bound to give all comers a run for their money. But Intel is betting that even though the deep-learning market is still very small compared to the company’s overall revenue, purchasing Movidius gets it in on the ground floor of the next big thing.

(Read more: Recode, “50 Smartest Companies, 2016,” “The Next Must-Have Smartphone Feature,” “Intel Outside as Other Companies Prosper from AI Chips”)

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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich goes for a spin in some Movidius-powered gear.

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