Intel Fab XR Virtual Tour

Intel Museum

Santa Clara, CA

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

The Ask

A fab, or chip fabrication facility, is a largely unremarkable, featureless building that belies the highly-specialized systems in and around it. The Intel Museum wanted to give visitors an inside look at how these sprawling, multi-acre facilities work to produce silicon computer chips with nanometer precision.

The Journey

Distill a multitude of complicated systems into a series of easily-understood and compelling "explainers" suitable for 8th-grade audiences and adults alike. Create a standalone, self-guided exhibit for the general public, as well as a special VIP experience for special guests.

The Solution

The Intel Fab XR Virtual Tour needs 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 animated 3D vignettes that detail the buildings and systems that all contribute to the process.

Rethinking the virtual facility tour

A fab, or chip fabrication facility, is where Intel produces computer chips around the clock using state-of-the-art manufacturing processes. From the outside, however, these purpose-built structures mask the incredible complexity of the myriad of systems and tools that must all work together in perfect harmony. This exhibit lets visitors to the Intel Museum use augmented and mixed reality to remove the building facades and take a virtual tour of one of the most complex manufacturing processes on the planet.

A closeup view of the 3D-printed fab model that serves as the focal point of the XR virtual tour exhibit.
An overhead shot of the custom-designed 3D-printed fab model that serves as the focal point for the interactive XR facility tour.

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 close-up view of the sliding display for the augmented reality virtual tour.

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.

A wide shot of the augmented reality virtual tour showing the 3D model of the fab facility along with sliding displays. An onscreen user interface prompts users to slide the display left or right to explore the content.

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.

Augmented reality on rails

Free-floating tablets in public environments are fraught with complexities: application learning curves, staffed oversight and monitoring requirements, charging requirements, breakage, and theft. To create an unattended and fully self-guided experience, Stimulant designed a system that mounted 9:32 aspect ratio displays on an internal sliding rail system, allowing them to slide freely to the left and right. Each display was housed in a custom enclosure that included a front-facing camera and positional sensors for the displays. These sensors feed image and position information into a real-time 3D engine that superimposes animated 3D content over the live camera feed, providing an augmented reality virtual tour of the facility.

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 heavily inspired by the books of Richard Scarry and David Macaulay.

A guest to the museum operates the sliding display on the XR virtual tour.
A user wears a Microsoft Hololens 2 headset and interacts with the XR virtual tour in mixed reality.

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.

Screenshots showing desktop and mobile versions of the XR virtual tour.

Fab tours available worldwide

The Intel Mixed Reality Fab Tour is a next-generation virtual facility tour designed specifically to present highly complex and difficult-to-grasp concepts in a straightforward, compelling, and tech-forward way. It leverages both augmented and mixed reality devices to deliver high-resolution 3D animated content to the general public as well as VIP guests.

A companion website makes the educational content available worldwide. With this exhibit, Intel now has a powerful tool to tell their unique story as not only the most capable chip fabrication company in the world, but also the company that started the microprocessor revolution back in 1968.