Intel, Qualcomm getting into drones

Two major chip-makers are plunging in to drones—with different approaches.

Intel and Qualcomm investing in drones UAVs
Credit: Yuneec

On the heels of Intel's announcement that it will be investing over $60 million in drone maker Yuneec, chip maker Qualcomm has said that it has completed development on a drone-specific chip platform.

Yuneec will be one of the first companies to use the chips, Qualcomm said in its announcement.

Yuneec manufactures over 1 million radio-controlled aircraft a year, according to its website. The company is known for its Typhoon series of Ready-to-Fly (ready-built) UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial vehicles, with sophisticated aerial photography tools such as "Follow me."

Intel's approach, on the other hand, is investment.

One reason for the interest: drones are full of chips.

Video processing

Qualcomm says its new drone-specific Snapdragon Flight board, based on its 801 processor, will support 4K video along with simultaneous 720p First Person View (FPV) encoding.

FPV is where the pilot, or a spotter, uses a video downlink from a drone-mounted on-board camera to observe the view from the vehicle.

Generally, multiple boards and components are required for flight control, FPV video, and high-definition recording. Combining those elements onto one board could reduce weight, which would increase flight time.

Qualcomm is pitching its board at OEMs, ready-built drone makers.

Radios

Radios are featured prominently, as one might expect from Qualcomm.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GNSS (GPS), and its Hexagon Digital Signal Processor for navigation is included on the one board.

Fast battery charging is accomplished through Qualcomm's QuickCharge technology. QuickCharge uses special wall chargers to increase charging speed.

Dimensions

The board's dimensions come in at 58x40mm, which is larger than some currently available boards.

Size is important for weight issues—the lighter the drone is, the longer it can stay in the air.

Some small-to-mid-sized self-build quadcopters' flight controller boards can be as small as 37x37mm. Those boards don't have video processing functionality and radios like Qualcomm's, though.

OEM

In any case, Qualcomm is pitching its platform at an OEM market, rather than hobbyist self-build, as some of the other smaller open-source software and hardware boards are.

Those self-install boards often require difficult tweaking and adjustments before they fly the craft properly.

"Our drones are manufactured to be ready to fly 'out of the box' and ensure stable, smooth flying and video capture," Yuneec said in a press release.

Intel

Intel's announcement that its capital arm is investing $60 million in Yuneec is part of a slightly different approach to drones in comparison to fellow chip-maker Qualcomm.

Whereas Qualcomm has developed a drone-specific chip platform, Intel is investing in a drone maker and has said that it wants to get its RealSense three-dimensional image capture technology onto drones, according to materials on its website.

I've written about 3D RealSense before in "Immersive video collaboration is around the corner."

The company has previously showcased a drone that carries six RealSense cameras, made by Ascending Technologies.

And one end game? Intel thinks the enhanced depth-perception provided by its RealSense cameras, and a 360-degree field of vision, could help drones fly themselves.

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