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Intel shows off a VR headset that doesn't need to be paired with a PC or phone

Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Reportis intent on not getting left out as virtual reality and augmented reality headsets get launched left and right.

The chip giant has used its latest Developer Forum to unveiled Project Alloy, a reference design for a virtual reality headset that -- unlike Facebook's (FB) - Get Facebook, Inc. Class A Report Oculus Rift, HTC's Vive or Sony's (SNE) - Get SONY GROUP CORPORATION SPONSORED ADR Report PlayStation VR -- doesn't need to be paired with a high-end PC or gaming console to function.

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Rather, all of its processing power, no doubt provided by Intel silicon, is housed inside the headset. As is the case with many of its other hardware efforts, Intel's goal isn't to sell large quantities of hardware, but to sell chips to OEM partners whom it hopes will adopt its reference designs.

Intel also promises Alloy headsets will be able to take in content from a user's real-world environment and bring it inside a virtual world. In addition, unlike the aforementioned rival hardware platforms, Alloy doesn't need any external sensors or cameras to be placed in the room where a headset is being used, or even any handheld controllers. These features are enabled by Intel's RealSense depth-sensing/motion-tracking camera technology.

Alloy isn't alone in taking an all-in-one approach to VR: AMD (AMD) - Get Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Report, which has worked hard to optimize its GPUs for VR, is partnering with startup Sulon Technologies to develop a headset that doesn't need any pairing.

Facebook/Oculus and others have argued the huge performance needs of high-end VR experiences make pairing headsets with powerful computers necessary in the near-term. Alloy will have to address concerns about the kind of performance, comfort and battery life an all-in-one solution can deliver.

If it can pull that off, a company like Oculus, which has suggested it cares more about developing VR software rather than hardware over the long run, could eventually be willing to partner.

Separately, Intel has obtained a license from ARM Holdings (ARMH) , whose CPU core designs power billions of devices and are often baked into chips competing against Intel's processors, that allows it to manufacture ARM-powered chips for third parties.

The deal shows the growing pragmatism Intel is demonstrating as it tries to lower its PC dependence, and should strengthen a chip foundry business that has made limited headway against the likes of Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) - Get Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd. Sponsored ADR Report, Samsung and Globalfoundries.

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Microsoft teams with Intel to let 'mainstream' Windows 10 PCs power Windows Holographic

At some point in 2017, Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) Reportwill update Windows 10 so that run-of-the-mill PCs can power headsets running Windows Holographic, the augmented reality software platform underpinning its HoloLens headset.

Intel, whose low-power Atom processors are used by HoloLens, will work with Microsoft to create specs for Holographic-capable PCs and headsets that can be used by third-party manufacturers, as well as to have Project Alloy support Holographic. The fact a quality AR experience requires less processing power than a quality VR experience works in the companies' favor here.

Microsoft and Intel have two apparent goals: to lower the cost of Holographic headsets by allowing PCs to handle much of the processing workload, and to strengthen a still-weak PC market by giving consumers and businesses a new reason to upgrade.

Microsoft, two months removed from opening up Holographic to third parties, is clearly betting a strong ecosystem will let Holographic be to AR what Windows has been to PCs. Getting the developer support needed for this to happen will take time, but some eye-opening consumer and business apps are already emerging.

Ford promises a self-driving car by 2021, invests in autonomous driving sensor startup with Baidu

Ford (F) - Get Ford Motor Company Reporthas joined BMW in declaring it plans to bring a fully autonomous car to market by 2021.

Ford's car won't have a steering wheel or pedals, and is aimed at ride-sharing fleets. If that last bit sounds familiar, it might be because Tesla's (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report latest "master plan" included creating ride-sharing services that feature Teslas loaned out by their owners when they don't need them. Uber, which has dabbled in self-driving car R&D, could be up for buying Ford's cars if/when they become available.

But for now, Tesla and Google -- the latter wants to bring self-driving cars to market by 2020 with the help of automakers -- have a lead in both R&D and the amount of real-world driving data they've collected from vehicles driving autonomously.

To help make up ground, Ford has teamed with Chinese search giant Baidu (BIDU) - Get Baidu, Inc. Sponsored ADR Class A Report, another firm investing heavily in autonomous driving, to invest $150 million in Velodyne, a startup developing advanced Lidar sensors for self-driving cars.

It's also acquiring SAIPS, an Israeli machine learning/computer vision software firm, and has struck an exclusive licensing deal with machine vision technology developer Nirenberg Neuroscience.