I have been following Intel for a few years now, a big part was for their push of the 3D Xpoint technology. Under the Optane brand, Intel has several forms of media types, addressing persistent memory to storage class and solid state storage. Intel, in recent years, has been more forefront with their larger technology portfolio and it is not just about their processors anymore. One of the bright areas I am seeing myself getting more engrossed in (and involved into) is their IoT (Internet of Things) portfolio, and it has been very exciting so far.
Intel IoT and Deep Learning Frameworks
The efforts of the Intel IoTG (Internet of Things Group) in Asia Pacific are recognized rapidly. The drive of the Industry 4.0 revolution is strong. And I saw the brightest spark of the Intel folks pushing the Industry 4.0 message on homeground Malaysia.
After the large showing by Intel at the Semicon event 2 months ago, they turned up a notch in Penang at their own Intel IoT Summit 2019, which concluded last week.
At the event, Intel brought out their solid engineering geeks. There were plenty of talks and workshops on Deep Learning, AI, Neural Networks, with chatters on Nervana, Nauta and Saffron. Despite all the technology and engineering prowess of Intel was showcasing, there was a worrying gap.
A gap we have to close
In my point view, Malaysia is in a precarious situation in the journey of Industry 4.0. We are balanced on an egg, and a slight shift will either topple the future of the manufacturing sector in Malaysia to the lower ranks of whole value chain, or propel us as the shining glory of high value technology, Industry 4.0 manufacturing leader of the world.
Our addition to cheap foreign labour in a very soft economy is not helping. A relatable incident was shared me last year. A well known mineral water bottler wanted to use technology to leap into operational efficiency and raise the standard of the company. They wanted to create a new brand to compete with the Evians and the Pellegrinos in the global market. The son of the company wanted to buy 3 visual inspection machines to check for mistakes and defects in capping the bottles but the father opposed strongly to it. His father’s objection was “For the cost of one machine, I can hire 10 foreign workers to manually inspect the capping“. But using the manual eye inspection was inaccurate, error prone and defeated the whole purpose to industrializing the factory of the mineral water bottler, and would, in the long run, hurt its brand and competitive advantage. That is one dilemma I see as a serious threat to Industry 4.0. The mindset towards technology and the capital costs with its adoption.
Malaysia Industry 4.0 policy Industry4WD, and its framework is critical to Malaysia’s future success and ability to compete at the highest level. And so far, I have been observing Intel taking a sizeable responsibility to promote its IoT and Deep Learning technology to Malaysia.
The partners are still focusing on the hardware
A day walk at the Intel IoT Summit saw many Intel partners and resellers. There was a slew of IPC (industrial PCs) from Axiomtek, Advantech, Adlink, and new players like Gigabyte and IEI (QNAP’s parent) were in the game as well. A few resellers introduced the Intel Movidius Myriad X technology on PCIe cards. Some were peddling consumer kiosks solutions and there were a few on digital menus for retail space.
Despite all the Intel efforts of Computer Vision with OpenVINO, Deep Learning, Neural Networks and AI in the technology talks, it was to me, still a hardware show. I asked a few of the booths about software and building solutions for the industries such as retail and manufacturing and the responses were tepid at best. A factory or a retail shop would have to buy the hardware and then install the necessary software and build the solution themselves. There was little to show for a more complete solution to meet respective industry’s requirements.
A Bright Star
A small Malaysian company, Itxotic Sdn Bhd, was the little bright shining star of the Intel IoT Summit in my opinion. Using simple hardware equipped with Intel OpenVINO technology, they have developed a pre-commercial Computer Vision Deep Learning solution. The solution, Itxotic Althaea, has massive potential because the application of their solution across industries, not just in manufacturing, is very vast.
I got hold of the video of their demo at the IoT Summit here.
It was a simple demo demonstrating good nail, bad nail, good Lego, bad Lego. The solution, once trained with the right AI model, can visually identify objects and components in a factory or in a retail shop, and tagged with the right specifications, details, price and other parameters, and also can be use to point out defects in the objects.
Itxotic Althaea is a 100% Malaysian developed solution, imbued with Malaysian AI ingenuity. And this is exciting because this small company took the bold step to show what Malaysia Industry 4.0 can be.
Kudos to Itxotic! The future is bright!
The gap I described is a great opportunity. We often lament the poor employability of Malaysia graduates in the field of technology and thus giving us a shallow pool of talents to power the Industry 4.0 aspirations. The team at Itxotic, and its affiliation with Universiti Tenaga Nasional, proves that Malaysia has the talent to develop potential world class technology. You got to give them the right fertile ground to grow.
At the Intel end, I see a technology giant shedding its staid demeanour in recent years to show what Intel technology engineering prowess is all about. I have been engaging more frequently and deeply with Intel folks more than ever. This is proof that Intel, especially the IOTG team, is really leading the way to change the world. At the opposite end, we see young startups like Itxotic taking the deep technology from Intel, and developing real-world AI solutions to Industry 4.0 requirements.
I hope that more startups will take up this great opportunity and go beyond the hardware. Drive up the value chain of technology. I am sure the view is breathtaking.