A few weeks ago we sent Christo to the US to find out what Intel was up to. He came back frothing about something called Quark which was apparently going to power the world. Within a month, the chip giant has announced Galileo, the first product based on Quark. It’s an Arduino-compatible development board which it’s been showing off to hardware hackers at Maker Faire in Germany today.
A fully fledged x86 system-on-a-chip, Quark is about a fifth the size of Intel’s Atom processors and uses a tenth of the power. Designed to be the basic building block of the ‘internet of things’, if one day we live in a world where the air is filled with millions of tiny nanobots that monitor everything with their embedded sensors and lightweight CPUs, it’ll be Quark that provides their brains – according to Intel. Right now, of course, most low-cost connected devices are built around ARM-compatible processors, shutting Intel out altogether.
In the start of its fightback against ARM, Intel is cleverly going on a charm offensive with the hacker community. After all, its they who have driven Arduino to success, popularised the Raspberry Pi and made RepRap 3D printers – all technologies which require no Intel input at the moment. Galileo is fully Arduino-compatible, which means that it runs an embedded Linux OS that can draw on the Arduino libraries for developers, and can accept Arduino ‘shields’ attached to its surface.
Shields are the daughter boards that add extra functions to Arduino controllers, like the circuitry that can drive a 3D printer, for example.
There’s no sense of rivalry, though. The creator of Arduino is fully on-board with Intel’s development. The whole point about Arduino is that it’s an open platform, after all. Galileo adds some features not available as defaults on an Arduino board too, including an ethernet port. It does, however, require a separate power supply – Arduino boards can draw enough power over a USB connection to run.
In a move that seems likely to display Raspberry Pi as the educational computer of choice, Intel is giving away 50 000 Galileo boards to universities worldwide over the next 18 months. It’s expected to cost less than $60 (R600) though.
It’ll be interesting to see how much more powerful than an Arduino board a Quark-powered Galileo is. The ability to add extra intelligence to hobbyist robots and quadcopters, for example, is something that will be widely welcomed by the community.