XR Chip Fab Facility Tour for Intel

An educational, accurate, and playful look inside one of the world's most complex manufacturing processes via augmented and mixed reality.

A fab, or chip fabrication facility, is where Intel produces computer chips around the clock using state-of-the-art manufacturing processes. It is also a largely unremarkable, featureless building that belies the highly specialized systems in and around it. As these facilities are not open to the public, Intel wanted to give visitors to its corporate museum in Santa Clara, CA an inside look at how these sprawling, multi-acre facilities produce silicon computer chips with nanometer precision.

A young visitor uses a sliding display to peer inside the fab model.

Rethinking the virtual facility tour

The Intel XR Fab Tour is an educational, accurate, and playful look inside one of the world's most complex manufacturing processes. Using augmented and mixed reality, visitors to the Intel Museum step through eight animated vignettes which explain the buildings and systems that comprise the fabrication process, all presented digitally overlaid on top of a physical fab model. The exhibit has two modes of interaction: a standalone, self-guided exhibit for the general public, and a special mixed reality VIP experience for special guests.

A custom 3D printed model represents the key areas and systems of the fab, but much like in real life, the interesting stories are hidden behind the facades.

Making complicated content easy to understand

An Intel fab covers dozens of acres and relies on a staggering array of highly-advanced equipment, transport mechanisms, processes, and specialized architecture. All of these exist to deliver raw materials to the cleanroom, where manufacturing takes place, and remove and process waste. Intel asked us to explain these systems in a five-to-seven minute user experience, targeting an 8th-grade reading level. This required a significant amount of ramp-up and deep dives with subject matter experts, and multiple rounds of concept design and narrative development to distill the key points into a holistic and accurate overview.

Simple, understandable, and utterly captivating

The virtual tour needed to be both low-maintenance and self-service, which ruled out the use of free-floating tablets. In addition, the client wished to create a premium, docent-led "VIP" experience that would facilitate executive briefings. This not only necessitated developing content that could be deployed on multiple platforms, but engineering a permanent, durable set of movable displays into the exhibit that would serve the general visitor population.

A specially-engineered sliding rail system and 9:32 aspect ratio displays in a custom enclosure allow visitors to explore the entirety of the model as if they were holding a tablet, without the issues associated with tablets in public spaces.

A single interaction controls the entire tour

The Intel Mixed Reality Fab Tour requires only one interaction - sliding a display left and right along a fixed track - to embark on an interactive exploration of a fab facility. Using playful animations and helpful narration, visitors step through eight different vignettes that detail the buildings and systems that all contribute to the process.

Details, details, details

Turning the chipmaking process into a living storybook was no small feat. Stimulant worked closely with subject matter experts to understand the salient points of the entire process, including a tour of a working fab facility and thorough review of dozens of technical documents. From there, we developed a high-level narrative framework that became a series of conceptual diagrams, each of which iteratively transformed into a 3D animation. Not only did these diagrams need to be compelling, they also needed to be technically accurate. Our goal was to make it feel like visitors were looking directly into a simplified working version of the facility – our efforts were inspired by the books of Richard Scarry and David Macaulay.

Special guests can take the tour in mixed reality via Microsoft Hololens 2. Up to eight visitors can explore the fab model at the same time.

A special mixed reality virtual tour

To support discussions with larger groups of customers, executives and visiting dignitaries, we also developed a mixed reality version of the tour that runs on Microsoft Hololens 2. With this, up to 8 people can simultaneously explore the fab from 360 degrees around the exhibit. Vignette navigation and narration are unique to each user, so they can explore at their own pace. A menu floating in mixed reality space lets guests select different vignettes by either pressing virtual buttons with their fingers, or navigating with voice commands. Closed captioning is available for narration as well.

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