Intel Incoming: Tech Powerhouse Enables Innovation Throughout the Drone Ecosystem

With each wave of technological innovation dominant players emerge. With PCs, there were Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and Apple. With the internet, Google, Facebook, and Amazon became dominant. With mobile phones, there was a resurgent Apple, adaptive Google, and emerging Samsung. As these waves recede, one-time major players can get washed out to sea: Lotus, Yahoo, Nokia, Blackberry. The next wave building is drones and the Internet of Things, and Intel, the chip giant of the 80s, is re-emerging as a major player in its development.

Intel Falcom 8+

Intel Falcom 8+

In a conversation with, Anil Nanduri, Intel’s VP New Technology Group, outlined the company’s initiatives in the drone space. He says that  Intel is looking to bring its innovative and enabling technologies (e.g. processors and processor tools, modems, storage) to bear on the drone industry, empowering the ecosystem and laying a foundation from which it can thrive.

Two key developments are the Aero platform and Intel’s RealSense technology.

Anil Nanduri

Anil Nanduri

Nanduri spoke about the Aero ready-to-fly unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development platform, which is a fully assembled quadcopter, built around the Intel® Aero Computer Board. It is targeted for developers, researchers, and UAV enthusiasts, and Intel’s development platform is hoping to enable applications to become airborne quickly. He told us that the Aero platform comes with full standard interfaces, reconfigurable IOs, and SSD storage. The Aero drone platform is expected to be available in Q4 of 2016.

RealSense technology provides drones with “intelligence.” One important feature of RealSense is obstacle avoidance. It enables drones to “see like we humans see [and be able] to navigate around obstacles,” Nanduri said.

The technology has been integrated into a variety of products. These include Yuneec’s Typhoon H drone. According to Yuneec, the drone “carries an  Intel® RealSense™ camera. There are three cameras that act like one—a 1080p HD camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector—they ‘see’ like the human eye to sense depth and track motion.” Typhoon H’s full 360 degree camera gimbal and retractable gear allows the module to always be facing obstacles in the path of flight, regardless of camera position. Yuneec’s FAQ  reports that a Typhoon H with RealSense flying at up to 12mph can sense obstacles such as leafless trees from up to 32 feet away and avoid them.

RealSense is also present in the Falcon 8 drone from Ascending Technologies, a designer and manufacturer of commercial drone systems based in Germany. Intel acquired the company earlier this year. One modified version of the Falcon was used to perform inspections of Airbus aircraft. The drone, a modified AscTec Falcon* 8,  captured incredibly detailed photographic and 3D data with Intel® RealSense™ cameras, reducing aircraft downtime from 2 hours to under 15 minutes.

Intel is continuing to explore ways to integrate its technology with the drone expertise of Ascending Technologies, and together they are exploring key advancements such as flying beyond line of sight and managing fleets of drones flying simultaneously. One early test of this involved Ars Technica, Ascending Technologies, Intel, and Beethoven. Here’s the video:

While the artistic implementation is fascinating to watch, the technology behind it is also compelling. Namely, multiple drones being flown by a single pilot.

Intel also acquired Movidius, headquartered in San Mateo, CA, which is an interesting acquisition. It is Movidius that developed the visual sensing processor used in the target=”_blank”> target=”_blank”>DJI Phantom 4. So Intel owns and or developed the object avoidance technology used in both DJI and Yuneec drones. In a follow up email, we asked Mr. Nanduri what Intel’s plans for Movidius were. He wrote:

We’re not detailing our product roadmap plans. But, generally speaking, Movidius’ technology in combination with RealSense 3D depth cameras furthers Intel’s push into new smart, connected devices where computer vision and deep learning capabilities in low power, low cost, high-performance solutions are key. We can deliver new solutions for OEM customers across multiple market segments from robotics to security cameras and, importantly, drones.

Lastly, Intel has a product with Intel on the outside as well as on the inside. The company announced the Falcon 8+ under the Intel name. The drone integrates Intel technology with the Ascending Technologies drone platform. It is notable for three reasons. First, it is an Intel branded product with Intel on the outside. Second, unlike the Ascending Technologies drones, it will be available in North America. Third, it is a comprehensive commercial solution featuring industrial strength capabilities including but not limited to flexible and convenient joystick control, full redundancy including for measurement units that compensate for strong winds and electromagnetic fields, and, of course, depth sensing technology that enables object avoidance.

As Nanduri made clear to DroneLife, with drone technology about to take off in both the consumer and commercial sectors, Intel does not intend to be left at the gate. Intel was a technology pioneer with the advent of the PC. While their technology can be found in mobile phones, their brand in not associated with that wave of technology. With the coming Internet of Things, specifically unmanned aerial vehicles, Intel plans to be back in front. As Nanduri summed up, “Intel is focusing on innovation that will empower the drone ecosystem.”

Resource links for Intel drone initiatives and developments:

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