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After smashing two Atoms, Intel sees mobile future in atomic research

Weeks after cancelling two generations of Atom mobile chips, Intel is paving the way for future low-power mobile technologies with a new research collaboration with a French atomic energy lab.

Fundamental research leading towards faster wireless networks, secure low-power technologies for the Internet of Things, and even 3D displays will be the focus of Intel's collaboration with the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

Intel and the CEA already work together in the field of high-performance computing, and a new agreement signed Thursday will see Intel fund work at the CEA's Laboratory for Electronics and Information Technology (LETI) over the next five years, according to Rajeeb Hazra, vice-president of Intel's data center group.

The CEA was founded in 1945 to develop civil and military uses of nuclear power. Its work with Intel began soon after it ceased its atmospheric and underground nuclear weapons test programs, as it turned to computer modeling to continue its weapons research, CEA managing director Daniel Verwaerde said Thursday.

That effort continues, but the organization's research interests today are more wide-ranging, encompassing materials science, climate, health, renewable energy, security and electronics.

These last two areas will be at the heart of the new research collaboration, which will see scientists at LETI exchanging information with those at Intel.

Both parties dodged questions about who will have the commercial rights to the fruits of their research, but each said it had protected its rights. The deal took a year to negotiate.

"It's a balanced agreement," said Stéphane Siebert, director of CEA Technology, the division of which LETI is a part.

Who owns what from the five-year research collaboration may become a thorny issue, for French taxpayers and Intel shareholders alike, as it will be many years before it becomes clear which technologies or patents are important.

Hazra emphasized the extent to which Intel is dependent on researchers outside the U.S. The company has over 50 laboratories in Europe, four of them specifically pursuing so-called exa-scale computing, systems capable of billions of billions of calculations per second.

"All our exa-scale labs are outside the U.S. They are all in Europe," he said.

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