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We are more data-centric than hardware-driven: Intel India’s Nivruti Rai

We are more data-centric than hardware-driven: Intel India’s Nivruti Rai
Nivruti Rai

On Thursday, semiconductor giant Intel opened yet another research and development hub in Bengaluru with an investment of $150 million. The company has so far invested over $5 billion in India over the last 20 years. The facility will house its engineers working on cutting-edge emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, internet of things, system on chip and next-generation 5G mobile broadband communication network.

On the sidelines of the launch of the centre, Nivruti Rai, Intel Corporation’s country head and vice president of data centres group, spoke with TechCircle about how the company has changed from a hardware firm to a software and data-oriented company. Edited excerpts:

How has Intel transformed itself over the last 20 years?

The recognition for the work that Intel India does comes from the business and technology teams. Some portion of product development is done by our Israeli team and some by the Indian one which then all comes together. So my R&D workforce creates products for the world.

Intel has more than $60 billion in revenues and the India centre now increasingly contributes to that as the market here is also maturing. So I want to bring in more business for India. We are also creating customised solutions, which our country needs, whether it is in the field of artificial intelligence, 5G or any other emerging technology. We have been given the mandate to drive customised solutions that work for the local market.

Has the role of Intel’s India centre grown?

Absolutely. I truly believe that technologies like 5G will give us an opportunity to double our economy in the next 5-10 years. With the digitalisation initiative and Aadhaar, India is becoming a data country and we are increasingly becoming a data-centric company. I see a lot of local cloud service providers in India and we are making sure that we support them as our stakeholder partners. I think we will create significant partnerships and value here, whether it be 5G or cloud. India's GDP is growing at 7% and I think Intel will also see similar growth from the market. I bet you, whatever we aim, we beat that.

Have emerging technologies like artificial intelligence transformed Intel more into a software company from a hardware one?

Yes! To even leverage the hardware, we need smart software. We were a hardware DNA company, but now we are a system DNA company, which comprises both hardware and software apart from application-level software as well. Blockchain, which is a complete software solution, leverages hardware. 

For example, phones, ‘Edge’ and cloud computing, and self-driving cars all need AI solutions. The power performance of the cloud is tremendous. We are assessing different platforms to create solutions for them.

Intel lost out to Qualcomm in the mobile revolution, so how important is the Internet of Things for the company?

IoT is a very important area of focus for us. We are investing in many areas involving it. We are very strong in the phone space when you consider modems. We are also implementing solutions for smart cities and smart classrooms. We are working with our partners for complete end-to-end IoT solutions, from sensors and all the way to the cloud.

Intel India has built what is called a ‘city-stack’. An IoT sensor will collect the data and send it to a data centre for analysis. We are also in the process of identifying an open software to help startups as well as academia. We got involved in IoT as part of the prime minister’s smart city initiative. We are also looking at ways to monetise data. We have solutions for water quality monitoring, automotive and telematics to name a few.

But are these products and platforms generating revenues?

Automotive telematics is pretty mature. Most cars today have telematics solutions in varying degrees. The autonomous driving market will bloom in a decade or two but it is a complex market and will take time to mature. We have solutions that assist in autonomous driving like the Mobileye technologies.

Intel has not acquired companies in India. Do you think high-quality startups in the chip segment do not exist in the country?

Over the last decade, we were focussing on software. That is changing and we are watching. Our Maker-Lab, through which we work with around 50 startups, is one such initiative to attract emerging companies. We have seen tremendous potential. Things are changing and we are partnering with these startups, which are systems focused, and incubating ideas with them.

Intel Capital was one of the earliest corporate venture firms to invest in India but it did not focus on the chip space. Why is that?

Intel Capital looked at whatever was available then. India is changing and we are now producing game-changing startups, which operate in silicon display, different platform components, etc.

Does Intel India file patents developed in the country and how many has it created?

We absolutely get credit. When it is multiple teams, then it is filed in the US. Whatever patents we file for, we use it in our own products across the globe. It does not matter whether a patent is developed by Intel Corp or Intel India. We get recognition wherever it is due.

What AI-based solutions are you working on?

In AI, we are working on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), cloud analytics, edge analytics and anything related to network, cloud and healthcare. For the government, we are also looking at agriculture. 

Tell us more about Intel India’s partnership with the Karnataka government on road safety.

We collected a lot of data and presented it at a computer vision conference in Munich, Germany. The data set, which is open source and a first-of-its-kind, is owned by India and IIIT-Hyderabad. A lot of work has been done on it by many stakeholders including academia.

Our collision avoidance system looks at how algorithms work in India and we plan to launch it globally. We will soon announce the next version of the solution, not just for telematics, but to use AI in real road tests.

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