The release of the Intel Falcon 8+ drone for North American markets, announced at INTERGEO 2016, is another indication of what sort of presence Intel is looking to establish in the drone market. Announcements like this make it very clear that the company specifically wants to position itself as a leader in the commercial drone space.
The news that the company is building on the AscTec Falcon 8 system and releasing the Intel Falcon 8+ for North American markets should not come as a surprise if you’ve followed Intel’s path in the last months. In recent years, Intel became more than the company responsible for the processors in many of the computers around the world. They’ve invested in different areas, but the drone industry has so far been mostly under the radar. The introduction of the Intel Falcon 8+ as the first Intel-branded commercial drone marks a noticeable presence in this segment of the market.
The Intel Falcon 8+ is for the most part a light-weight drone is, but it’s actually a heavyweight when it comes to professional uses. It is, according to Intel, “an advanced ready-to-fly UAS for professional drone service providers and industries for North American markets. This patented V-form octocopter provides full electronic system redundancy, which features redundant batteries, redundant communication between all flight relevant components and redundant sensing. The UAS has automated aerial sensing solutions with best in-class onboard sensors – providing detailed orthography down to millimeter accuracy Ground Sample Distance (GSD). Consistent waypoint automation enables exactly reproducible flights for valuable structural analysis. Utilizing these features, customers are able to detect and prevent damages of assets and infrastructure. A triple redundant autopilot with three redundant inertial measurement units compensates for hardware failures, external influences like electromagnetic fields and hard winds. Operators will have tremendous opportunities to generate valuable aerial precision data”.
However, the new and first Intel-branded commercial drone is just one aspect of Intel’s involvement with the drone market. The creation of a web page dedicated to drones, under the title “The Revolution Will Be Airborne” suggests how strongly Intel is venturing into and committing to this new and rapidly expanding market. The page is a space to “discover how Intel works with technology innovators to push the boundaries of drone capabilities and performance, creating new ways to view the world”.
To understand Intel’s interest and involvement with drones, one only has to go back to 2014 when Nixie, a Flyable & Wearable Camera, won Intel’s Make it Wearable competition. The Nixie drone, which won a prize of $500,000 from Intel, is a small UAV conceived primarily for rock climbers and other adventure sports. The marketing for the product states that “at your cue, Nixie unfolds and takes flight. Nixie composes the perfect shot from an awesome perspective, capturing the moment without interrupting the moment.”
The Nixie drone was the first visible sign of Intel’s interest in drones and from then on that interest started to grow and expand in different directions. The second sign of Intel’s interest was made visible at the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, where the company announced it had signed a collaboration agreement to “work together on developing collision avoidance technology and algorithms for UAVs using Intel RealSense cameras and Ascending Technologies’ AscTec Trinity auto pilot system.” Intel also became Ascending Technologies’ first external investor before fully acquiring the company in early 2016.
The collaboration between the two companies was publicly announced by Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation, during his keynote on January 6th 2015 at CES, in Las Vegas. Krzanich discussed the growing possibilities for self-aware drones, including inspection of fields and power lines, monitoring endangered species, and even delivering goods or emergency medication. He reinforced that as drones become smart, they can see, react, and even move through the environment. To showcase this, Intel created an obstacle course inside the CES keynote ballroom and demonstrated AscTec Firefly multi-copter drones equipped with Intel RealSense cameras automatically flying through the course. Krzanich and the Ascending Technologies team demonstrated drones interacting in a swarm as well as collision avoidance and a fun interactive game of “drone pong”. View that segment of the presentation from 0:34:52.
It’s interesting to know that this announcement came after a collaboration that gave Intel a Guinness World Record on November 2015 for drone flight and performance. Intel’s Drone 100 is a 3D masterpiece of art and airborne technology. Ars Electronica FutureLab used Intel technology and Ascending Technologies’ drones to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Since that flight which took place in Hamburg, the show has thrilled audiences around the world with its unique drones swarm shows.
The third visible sign came in January 2016, when an Intel’s powered drone, the Yuneec Typhoon H, capable of collision avoidance, with a “follow-me” feature, and a 4K camera, was considered the “best on show” at CES 2016.
With the Yuneec Typhoon H Intel heralds a new era in terms of drones and safety. While demonstrating a new model for the Yuneec Typhoon family of drones at CES 2016, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich said: “This is the world’s first truly intelligent consumer drone. It can navigate any obstacle. Any other drone would have crashed into the tree.”
With so many drones taking to the skies, having one that is able to avoid collisions will spare operators and observers from having drones falling on our heads. The secret behind the smart behavior of the latest drone from Yuneec is Intel’s RealSense technology, a high performance collision avoidance module. That and an advanced IR camera module make the Yuneec Typhoon H truly “intelligent”.
The partnership between Intel and Yuneec is no surprise. In August 2015 Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich announced that Intel was investing more than $60 million in Yuneec, a worldwide leader in electric aviation, and that future product collaboration was the goal. The Yuneec Typhoon H was the first visible sign of that agreement.
The demonstrations at CES 2016 were so convincing that Engadget, PC Magazine, The Verge and Videomaker named the Intel Atom processor-powered Yuneec Typhoon H the best drone of CES 2016. With Intel RealSense technology, the Yuneec Typhoon H is capable of collision avoidance, has a “follow-me” feature, and a 4K camera. It all seemed so exciting that CNET, Gizmodo and Reuters also included the drone in their best-of-CES lists.
In recent years, Intel has invested in several companies associated with drones: Ascending, Yuneec, Airware, PrecisionHawk and e-volo. The odd one here is the German company e-volo, responsible for the Volocopter VC200, which is not a drone but the world’s first certified multicopter for manned flight. Its maiden flight took place in March 2016, heralding a new era in urban mobility. For the first time humans’ dream of personal flight as a daily routine becomes attainable. Are Intel’s dreams going beyond the pure UAV?
In recent months Intel has demonstrated its commitment to the use of drones for serious applications. A good example, from July 2016, happened when a team from Intel and Airbus demonstrated an aircraft visual inspection with a modified AscTec Falcon 8 with Intel RealSense cameras. The demo took place during in Farnborough International Airshow in England on an Airbus passenger airliner.
“This collaboration and demo with Airbus showcases the advancements and innovation Intel brings to the drone industry,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager within Intel’s New Technology Group. “We believe this prototype showcasing the Intel RealSense collision avoidance technology on the AscTec Falcon 8 will further enable our products and our industry, as well as others.”
The AscTec Falcon 8, a market leader in professional aerial inspection and surveying, was flown using a flight control system managed by a human pilot. The UAV followed a predetermined flight path systematically taking a series of fully-automated pictures. The images, especially the ones showing scratches, dents and painting defects, will be compiled in a 3-D digital model, recorded in a database and analyzed. This data will help to improve damage traceability, and also to prevent and reduce them.
The Falcon 8+ builds upon the AscTec Falcon 8. It offers, says Intel, “ best performance and weight to payload ratio in the entire market, highest stability in harsh conditions, easily exchangeable and deeply integrated payloads, best safety including unmatched robustness against magnetic field disturbances, high-precision GPS and one of the world’s largest drone reseller and support networks to support your drone business and daily operations properly”.
Intel is focused on creating innovative new technologies and bringing new capabilities in the UAV segment. With the Intel Falcon 8+, Intel offers a highly reliable light-weight drone for challenging applications. To control the drone users have the Intel Cockpit, a newly designed control system featuring a water resistant, robust user interface even for use in harsh outdoor environments. With the integrated Intel based tablet, operators are able to plan and execute highly complex missions with ease. The Intel Cockpit integrates independent control and safety features with low latency digital video link. This supports payloads with up to 1080p resolutions for the best possible live view. Amazing user simplicity with a complete single hand flight control joystick.
To keep the drone flying, users have the smart Intel Powerpack batteries, which power the Intel Falcon 8+ and the Intel Cockpit and combine efficiency with industrial safety standards. The battery features automatic balancing, storage mode, charging and LEDs that display remaining battery life. It makes everyday battery handling easy and is small enough that it meets airline shipping requirements for batteries.
Small is also the Intel Aero Ready-to-Fly Drone. This ready-to-fly UAV development platform is a fully assembled quadcopter, built around the Intel Aero Compute Board. It is geared for developers, researchers, and UAV enthusiasts to help get applications airborne quickly. The small drone comes equipped with Intel RealSense technology, runs on open-source Linux operating system, has pre-programmed flight controller with Dronecode PX4 software and support for AirMap SDK for airspace services.
The Intel Aero Ready-to-Fly Drone will be available soon. When matched with the optional Vision Accessory Kit, developers have tremendous opportunities to launch sophisticated drone applications into the sky.
These are just some of the most exciting bits of news about the interest Intel has demonstrated towards commercial drones. All of it helps explain why Krzanic now sits as the head of the Drone Advisory Council which was announced in May by the FAA. The advisory committee is set to address integration strategies regarding unmanned aircraft among various other topics, and Krzanich clearly has an interest and stake in ensuring the success of a committee whose mission is to bring drones into U.S. airspace in a safe and effective way.
Intel is clearly serious about drones, and the “airborne revolution” is just starting. According to Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of the New Technology Group at Intel Corporation, “we’ve quickly accelerated our efforts to develop new drone technologies. Although our technology has already touched drone enthusiasts, developers and global businesses, we look to achieve even more.”