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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Drones
An unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), better known as a drone, is a type of aircraft that is controlled remotely and is therefore flown without a human in the cockpit. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, from military UAVs primed for reconnaissance and missile deployment through to civilian drones for applications as varied as aerial photography, product deliveries, and keeping tabs on agriculture and livestock.
The rise in popularity for civilian drones - ones that the general public can buy - has been rapid over the last five years. Inexpensive hobbyist drones are used for purely recreational activities, whilst those more expensive, usually with a gimble mount for a camera, have a wide range of business uses.
However, piecing all the bits together - drone, sensors, customised hardware, camera, amongst others - is no easy task for the budding entrepreneur. Companies such as DJI have cornered a small piece of this prosumer action-cam market with models such as the Phantom and Mavic Pro, but for those looking for more flexibility from drone hardware, the task of choosing and configuring the right equipment isn't easy.
Enter an unlikely champion of developmental drone technology: Intel. Though it may not seem like an obvious fit on first glance, Intel already has a collection of technologies in its arsenal that make it an ideal candidate for enabling developers to get their drone applications airborne speedily. Putting these into one package, Intel announced the Aero Ready to Fly Drone in 2016.
What do you get ?
The ready-to-fly UAV development platform is a fully-assembled quadcopter, built around the Intel Aero Compute Board. It is geared for developers and researchers to help get applications off the ground fast.
The brains of this aerial outfit are provided by the Intel Aero Compute Board, powered itself by a quad-core Intel Atom processor. The board also combines compute capabilities with storage, communications and flexible I/O, meaning that it can run complex applications that are outside the remit of cheaper drones. For example, a developer can program the drone to fly a certain flight path for 20 minutes, or track a particular subject no matter where they go. The possibilities for customisations, and therefore business opportunities, are almost endless.
Intel reckons that, obviously, the drone makes most sense when equipped with a camera. This is where the Intel Aero Vision Kit comes in, and this three-camera offering uses Intel's depth-sensing RealSense R200 camera alongside an 8MP shooter and a VGA camera for an optimum combination of video quality. The kit connects to the Aero Compute Board and both can be safely mounted on the drone by purchasing an Intel Aero Enclosure Kit.
In fact, given that Intel also provides the remote control, the only thing required to get the drone airborne is a charged battery
Why choose it over established, mass-produced drones?
The software customisation is the key selling point for the Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone, because the Aero Compute Board can be open-sourced programmed (Linux) in myriad of ways to serve a particular need. Want collision detection? No problem, that can be programmed in by a competent developer. Want the drone to circle a stock-holding warehouse in a particular pattern? Again, no problem.
In fact, Intel pitches this as the ultimate platform on which to develop sophisticated drone applications that are then sold on to customers with a need that is not presently solved by general-purpose drones.
It is gratifying to see an industry giant take nascent drone technology seriously by offering up a simple, robust means by which to enable drone-application developers to set themselves apart from the competition. Just like in computing where no one PC is a perfect fit for everyone, the same mantra is true for drones. Drawing an analogy, the Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone platform, primed to fly straight out of the box, is like having a custom-built PC at your fingertips, designed for your workloads in mind.
It is likely that Intel will continue to use its collection of relevant technologies and support drones further. We wait with bated breath to see what it has in store in 2018.