Inside the sprawling Acer stall at Computex Taipei, Asia’s largest tech show, staff displayed a laptop computer that’s ready for virtual reality play yet thinner than most PCs for gaming. At the same exhibition, the Taiwanese tech hardware maker showed how its internet cloud uses artificial intelligence to predict what customers will do when shopping and allow the shop to make decisions accordingly.
VR and AI usher in a new world of technology
Acer was riding two major new themes at the annual show: virtual reality, often abbreviated to VR, and artificial intelligence, or AI.
Demand from gamers, a lucrative market of people willing to pay more than $10,000 for a personal computer (PC), is driving the VR side, compelling Acer and its peers to install new lines of processors that support immersive, 3D play with headgear and hand controls.
“You can see that the company is moving into more gaming centric, VR, new experience innovation,” said Vincent Lin, senior director of Acer's global product marketing. “Not all gaming notebooks or not all notebooks are VR ready. There are certain requirements needed to be VR ready. VR, certainly it’s a growth area. It’s supposed to like grow five times or something over next 3 years.”
Revenue is forecast to rise quickly
Silicon Valley investment advisory firm Digi-Capital forecasts a surge in global revenue from $20 billion this year to $108 billion in 2021 in virtual reality technology and a similar technology known as augmented reality.
The anticipation of growth inspired 60 Computex exhibitors to show games, gear or PCs that support virtual reality. The technology that first popped into public view in the 1980s is normally aimed now at computer gamers, though scientific researchers have used VR as well as the related augmented reality to model processes they can’t duplicate in real life.
Near Acer’s stall, Computex visitors donned thick, black head-mounted goggles to race cars or fire at things, yelling in excitement through the dimly lit booths as they tested new products.
PCs will be thinner, quieter and quicker to support VR
Developers were excited about Nvidia’s newly announced graphics processors that are designed to make PCs thinner and quieter. They also noticed the seventh update of Intel’s Core i5 processor, which stands to make PCs faster.
At one stall, Hong Kong developer Zotac showed off backpacks that can hold a gamer’s VR hardware system to prevent any tripping over wires – which might happen to someone immersed in a 3D scenario and unable to see the real floor.
“Right now the way the virtual reality equipment is made, you’re tethered to a system. That means you have to worry about tripping over cables, wrapping them around yourself as well,” Zotac product marketer Buu Ly said. “With our VR backpack, that removes those barriers so you are more free to experience VR the way it was supposed to be experienced.”
AI attracting much interest this year
Artificial intelligence also made its way into the show, where about 1,600 exhibitors occupied 5,010 booths, this year as companies test a relatively new technology that teaches computers to make decisions based on patterns they detect through analysis of user commands.
Voice-activated assistants on mobile phones use artificial intelligence by searching the phone for requested information, even sending commands across apps to get answers.
Computex organizers have not tallied the number of exhibitors showing AI technology, but analysts in Taipei say a number are pursuing servers that can speed up development of AI functions allowed by the likes of Nvidia’s Jetson TX computer processing module.
With a compound annual growth rate of 63 percent from 2016 to 2022, the artificial intelligence market should be worth $16.06 billion by 2022, according to forecasts by the research firm Markets and Markets.
“AI has caught much of the spotlight in various exhibitions around the world and has become one of major deployment highlights for many companies in recent years,” said Ray Han, industry analyst with the Marketing Intelligence & Consulting Institute in Taipei. “The next battlefield will lie on platforms or chips.”
Internet of things
One contender is Socionext, a Japanese developer that has developed a processor partly for AI and the Internet of things, or IoT, which means using phones or PCs to control other electronic objects. Five customers are evaluating whether to install the chip, said Fumitaka Shiraishi, a Socionext business project management group member.
“Our chip is a processor chip, so not too specific for AI but also suitable for AI because of the low power,” Shiraishi said.
Artificial intelligence can help the Internet of things by picking the most relevant points from vast fields of data collected.
“In the future five years, I think IoT devices also need to judge some information -- not just sensing,” Shiraishi said.