Intel’s Role In The Drone Revolution

By Luke Geiver | January 07, 2016

Last year, at the biggest consumer electronics event in the world, Intel debuted a small unmanned aircraft vehicle equipped with a sense-and-avoid system that could fly through a series of obstacles, turning, hovering and flight pausing through its way a make-believe forest.

The goal then was to simply showcase some of the work Intel was up too in the field of UAVs.

This year, Brian Krzanich, CEO, revealed just how far Intel had gone in its year worth of work on the sense-and-avoid technology designed by German-based Ascending Technologies (a company Intel just acquired). In the first half of 2016, Intel will now have a sUAS capable of flying through a real forest without hitting any trees—either stationary or falling. Essentially, Krzanich showed that Intel has a commercially available option that can fly autonomously and perform sense-and-avoid. The system combines a camera and a CPU to combine images and algorithms into actionable data the drone can use to avoid obstacles in real-time.

“The drone goes everywhere,” he said. “It can navigate any obstacle.”

To demonstrate the system’s capabilities, the Intel team put the sUAS on a follow-me mode and sent the drone into the air to follow a mountain bike rider on an imaginary trail. The team also went to Mexico and rode mountain bikes through high cactus deserts with the drone following the riders in follow-me mode, never hitting or colliding with the cactus as the riders weaved their way through the landscape.

After watching the video of the demonstrations, it is hard to not be impressed. But, there have been many impressive UAV demonstrations in the past two years showcasing the capabilities of platforms both small and large. However, this presentation seems to have much more meaning to the overall state of the industry than others have. As Krzanich said on the stage, “we believe we are truly on the verge of a drone revolution.” Having a global technology superpower demonstrate its own platform that can fly with legitimate sense-and-avoid capabilities—a major element in the push to fly autonomously beyond visual line of sight—is a major breakthrough moment for the industry. Of course there have been systems that have shown similar capabilities in the past. But few, if any, have been so close to the end-users hands as the Intel drone is. Of course, the industry has much further to go to bring the true capabilities and dreams of the UAS concept designer to reaility. The time UAV supporters want to see is, however, progressing.  Don’t believe me? Watch the video.