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Intel Inside... Band-Aids?

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Intel's claim that their chips are everywhere is being expanded from the PC into the 1.3 trillion healthcare industry right down to the blood level.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant Friday outlined its short and long-term strategy to use its chips to tackle diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's and other health problems afflicting the growing amount of elderly.

The company claims it wouldn't be long before Intel chips could help power advanced early disease detection technology, health monitoring devices and even smart band-aids.

"We envision a future in which every piece of silicon will include computing technologies but also connect to multiple wireless networks and roam between them," said Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger. "Your socks could tell if you are going to get a blister... you could have your mirror looking back at you and tell you if you have the onset of skin cancer."

As part of his traditional "What's Next" keynote at the Intel Developer's Forum here, Gelsinger said overall, the company is testing devices that "make communications ubiquitous."

"This is just the R&D technology we are working on. This is not a business decision for our products. We are not becoming a health care company," Gelsinger said. "In the same way that we helped the communications industry and did not do it on our own, we are basically describing a new area that we feel we can help."

Intel said it is partnering with elder-care groups like the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) and the American Association of Home and Services for the Aging to advise it on the specific needs of an aging population.

The testing work is being assigned to its Intel Proactive Health Research team and Precision Biology research team. Gelsinger said the further R&D investment in the technology in its chips depended specifically on the success of the research.

For example, the Biology research team is testing sculpting silicon nano-structures (about the size of a virus) in a way that will cause molecules to march single-file past sensors that classify them. Intel said the researchers hope to someday detect unique molecular-scale signatures associated with diseases such as cancer.

Some of the building blocks are already in place; others are expected next year. Gelsinger predicted full systems with huge customer buy-in to take place in the next decade.

Intel said with the help of advancements in Radio Free Intel chips; MEMS , sensor chips with embedded operating systems and databases; intelligent roaming; smart antenna systems; and IEEE 802.15 architecture for sub-banding Ultra-Wideband , would all contribute to its plan.

In addition to its health care pursuits, Gelsinger described some of these technologies under development in Intel's research and development labs, including silicon radios and "context aware" computing.

The company is pursuing the development of radios based on the company's low-power CMOS silicon manufacturing process. Gelsinger told internetnews.com that Intel is currently implementing its roaming technology and is a step closer to realizing its goal of developing "reconfigurable radios." The technology would automatically identify and connect to a number of wireless networks -- including 802.11, Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband -- allowing a device powered by one of these chips to have wireless capabilities across many different networks.

The vision builds on CEO Craig Barrett's theme of convergence between its semiconductors and communication devices.

Earlier in the week, Intel plotted its semiconductor product roadmap with new versions of Centrino and XScale processors coming this year and next generation Prescott chips (with Canterwood, Springdale chipsets) as well as newly introduced Azalia and Tejas processors.