Intel looking to breathe new life into the USB stick

Chipmaker also working on powering small devices using ambient energy.

Intel is looking to push down the power envelope of small peripherals such as USB sticks to microwatts and milli-watts, and add functionality.

Ravi Iyer, director and senior principle engineer of the SoC platform architecture group, told attendees at IDF 2013 that the chipmaker is experimenting with incorporating ultra-low-powered controllers and sensors into various devices.

The USB stick of the future?

Iyer gave the example of how Intel could give a new lease of life to the humble USB stick by adding support for NFC and gesture control. These "smarter" USB sticks could become a form of user authentication, he suggested.

"Any time you needed [to verify] your identity, all you need to do is touch that [USB] to another deviceand it does a basic handshake. It's transferring a token, it's doing that in a secure manner, and you can do that at microwatts of power," Iyer said.

"The other thing you can do is take the USB stick and shake it depending on the context that you're in."

Iyer suggested for example that USB sticks could be provisioned to transfer notes and images from meetings with shake. This would be done by incorporating an accelerometer.

Intel is confident the basic principle it is working on can also be extended to make everyday inanimate objects such as clothes, glasses, badges, watches, bracelets and even rings, smarter.

Using ambient energy

Wearable devices are already entering the market with the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch and Google Glass among a number of incoming devices. However, they will require regular charging.

With the number of wearable devices on the market increasing, Intel is looking at ways to not only cut the power consumption but to power them using ambient energy.

"A few years from now there may be many other devices monitoring our current behaviour they need to lower power, because if they are going to be small they need to essentially have no or very little battery in them," Iyer continued.

"We're looking at capturing tens of microwatts up to a milli-watt of energy from the ambient environment around us. We're doing that by looking at solar, RF, vibration, thermal and other types of energy that we can take advantage of to power devices."

Although Intel appears to have the technologies in place, it could still be some time before these ultra lower powered devices such as the smarter USB stick make it to market.

"We have the technologies to do energy harvesting, to build the IP blocks and integrated platforms. We built technologies that happen within a five year time frame," he told IT Pro.

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