Intel Drones Light Up Xponential, Show Industry Shift

In the News
May 22, 2017

At AUVSI Xponential here earlier this month, the drone industry’s ongoing shift from military and consumer offerings to commercial applications was clear. Intel Corp. has moved from making chips to sensors and now complete drone offerings. Intel drones demonstrated the company’s commitment to new markets at the show.

“This is the biggest movement in the industry,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president of the New Technology Group and general manager of the new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Segment at Intel. “The opportunity is easier to understand, as drones for commercial inspections and delivery provide a clear benefit.”

“The systems are more capable for a wide variety of applications,” he told Robotics Business Review. “For instance, UAVs will transform delivery, search and rescue, and agriculture.”

Intel drones benefit from cheaper components

“Drones are able to leverage processors from higher-volume industries, such as smartphones and consumer electronics, lowering costs,” Nanduri explained. “Inertial motion and GPS are much lower-cost, thanks to consumer electronics.”

But software and data are becoming more important to end users than hardware, he added.

“Users are thinking of drones as a vehicle for doing something like capturing high-res imagery,” said Nanduri. “We’re making it easier for a pilot to say, ‘Fly to that tower to inspect it.’ The UAVs are smarter, and the pilot could even be a computer.”

“It’s very much a waypoint-based approach today, but the challenge is how to capture data in a repeatable way,” he said. “The system should help the pilot avoid guywires, and it’s all done through data fusion and compute onboard.”

Greater autonomy in the air

Nanduri echoed the keynote addresses, in which Brian Wynn, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), observed that unmanned vehicles are giving way to more autonomous systems.

“This is similar to the transformation in the automotive industry,” Nanduri said. “We have the car and the driver, and the car learning to drive itself, thanks to sensors and compute engines.”

“The capabilities are similar, but the pain points and requirements are different,” he acknowledged. “UAVs have constraints like flight time. A 2 kg (4.4 lb.) sensor is too heavy for a drone.”

“We need miniaturization and safety,” said Nanduri. “The process of getting data from drones is still very manual — often, it must land so the operator can swap out an SD card.”

“In the future, the Intel drones will be able to take off, do work, transfer data, and be aware of their environment,” he added. “A UAV can go back and recharge, and it will have safety and redundancy.”

Intel’s open-source Aero platform is designed to help developers customize...

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