Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor takes flight in UAS

By Patrick C. Miller | September 17, 2015

The same Qualcomm Inc. Snapdragon processor that’s proven itself on millions of smartphones will take to the air by serving as the “brain” for unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Qualcomm—an international communications technology company headquartered in San Diego—calls its Snapdragon Flight processor the next-generation development platform designed to help manufacturers build the consumer robots and drones of the future.

Hugo Swart, senior director and head of Internet of Things (IOT) consumer electronics, told UAS Magazine, “The technologies that we pioneered and optimized for smartphones are the very same technologies that will unlock the drone ecosystem.”

The Snapdragon Flight was announced by Matt Grob, chief technology officer of Qualcomm Technologies, at the company’s Sept. 10 Accelerating Robotics event. It included a live demonstration of the Snapdragon Flight reference drone—one of the world’s smallest 4K flying cameras that showcased the power of Snapdragon Flight.

The platform was designed for the rapidly growing consumer drone segment, providing a highly integrated board that’s based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 processor. The company said the integration enables superior processing power per unit of weight, along with capabilities such as 4K Ultra HD video, computer vision, communication, navigation and real-time flight assistance.

The integrated design is engineered to reduce the size, weight and power consumption, leading to longer flight times and additional safety. Qualcomm Research—the research and development arm of Qualcomm Technologies—has taken this platform from idea to prototype to product.

Swart noted that Qualcomm is well positioned in the UAS industry because its powerful and efficient processors have what drones need. He said they provide heterogeneous computing across DSP (digital signal processing), the GPU (graphic processing unit) and the CPU (central processing unit), as well as a high-quality camera and video processing with secure, reliable connectivity.

Incorporating the processor into a UAS platform also improves safety in a number of ways, according to Swart.

“Snapdragon Navigator, our advanced flight control system, provides sophisticated flight controls making it easier to fly and can help reduce operator errors,” he explained. “The flight control software executes on Snapdragon 801's embedded DSP at a very fast speed—reducing the risk of process contention on the CPU—and is coupled to the 5 HZ GPS, allowing for more frequent control updates than other solutions.”

Over the last few years, Qualcomm Research has released an array of rolling and flying robots to showcase ways in which mobile technologies can be harnessed as essential accelerators for the evolution of robotics.


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