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Intel's IDF Demos: The Good, The Bad and The Terrifying

SAN FRANCISCO — Anyone hoping to hear about roadmaps, release dates or other details of Intel's Skylake processors probably went away disappointed from Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's 90-minute kickoff to IDF15 today (August 18). Instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of processors, Krzanich instead focused on Intel's ideas about the future of computing, using demos to drive home those ideas are influencing Intel's innovations.

The result? A parade of demos throughout the keynote that occasionally inspired, caused a few furrowed brows and, in one instance, filled us with abject terror. Here are the demos from Intel's IDF15 keynote that stood out from the crowd.

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The Good

Intel's Security Bracelet: Intel announced new software development kits for wearables, and it was the one based around a user's identity that really caught our eye. To show a real-world example of how developers will be able to employ the development kit, an Intel developer was able to unlock her computer screen just by walking toward it while wearing a bracelet that carried authentication information; when she walked away, the computer's lock screen reappeared.

But what if someone were to get their hands on that bracelet? Because it's tied to a specific person's identity, the bracelet won't unlock the computer when someone else waves it around. It's a clever way of using wearable technology to spare people from having to remember yet another password, with some enterprise-level security thrown into the mix for good measure.

Nabi Baby Seat Clip: My family's life-hack to make sure that my sleep-deprived wife and I never left our infant daughter behind in a car was to put something like a purse or a wallet next to her car seat. It was effective enough — my preschool-aged daughter is doing just fine, thanks — but it wasn't exactly a technological breakthrough.

Intel thinks it's developed a more effective solution in the form the Nabi Baby Seat Clip. The clip contains a sensor that communicates with an app running on your smartphone. Walk out of range, and your smartphone sounds a visible — and loud — alarm that keeps buzzing until you and your baby are reunited. The baby seat clip is expected to hit retail shelves by the holiday season.

Wearable Curie Chip: At CES this past January, Intel talked up Curie, a button-sized computer that uses a Quark microcontroller and packs in other technologies like Bluetooth LE, an accelerometer and gyroscope. At IDF, Intel figured out a pretty eye-catching way to show Curie in action: put a few sensors on a BMX bike and have a rider perform some tricks on stage.

As the bike spun around — and even performed a death-defying leap over Krzanich — Curie collected real-time data about the bike's air time, maximum height and other positional information; Curie is even able to classify the name of the trick. Riders can then use that data to know which areas they need to work on to perfect that trick. And if BMX isn't your thing, imagine Curie sensors transmitting data to other athletes about their particular sport — or to viewers watching the action on TV.

Memomi Memory Mirror: Intel's technology could take some of the guesswork out of clothes shopping. With the Memomi Memory Mirror, you're able to try on one item of clothing and, without ever taking it off, see how it looks in different colors. You're also able to share those images with friends who might have a keener sartorial eye than you, while the retailer is able to collect data on customer preferences to provide a better shopping experience.

The Memomi mirror "isn't a gimmick," Krzanich said. It's already in three Nieman Marcus Stores, with plans to expand it to 16 stores by the fall.

Holographic Display: Intel's been working on holographic displays that seemingly float in midair for a while; my colleague Avram Piltch got to demo a holographic screen at CES this year. But Intel added a new twist for IDF — haptic feedback in the form of air that blows when you touch the virtual screen.

Intel's holographic display isn't a product — not yet, anyhow — but haptic feedback strikes me as an important step in popularizing these kinds of displays. I've tried out more than a few VR headsets and projected screens over the past few years, and one of the things missing from these kinds of interfaces has been a form of feedback to let me know when I've tapped the right virtual button. If all it takes is a blast of air to let me compute like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, I'm all for it.

The Bad

The Vending Machine of the Future: Are vending machines really crying out for state-of-the-art technology? Intel seems to think so, because it's working with N&W to develop a hands-free vending machine that dispenses snacks with the wave of your hand.

As shown off on stage at IDF, the vending machine features a transparent video screen, presumably showing footage of all the delicious snacks you could be enjoying. But on the other side of the screen, a camera incorporating Intel's RealSense technology is watching you, logging your gender, age range and just how long you're mulling over your snack options. I can see why a vending company might find that useful, but that doesn't make all that information gathering any less off-putting.

Intel says 5,000 of these new-age vending machines should be hitting the market in 2016. I hope the company doesn't mind if I restrict my snack runs to machines that won't be silently judging my food choices as I struggle to learn a new set of gesture controls.

The Terrifying

Intel's Dancing Spider Obsession: At Intel's developer forum in China earlier this year, Krzanich demonstrated some gesture-controlled spiderbots — a visual so unsettling it wound up as fodder in a Jimmy Fallon monologue on The Tonight Show. Intel must have figured that gesture-controlled robot spiders are its ticket to viral stardom because it upped the ante at IDF15 with even more spiders.

Your feelings about a stage full of robotic spiders controlled at the whim of a powerful CEO as they dance to "Uptown Funk" -- cool innovation or nightmare from which you can't wake up -- probably says a lot about your relationship to technology.