Chipmaker Intel Upgrades Presence in Small Drone Industry

 - January 6, 2016, 11:51 AM
Intel Corporation CEO Brian Krzanich demonstrates a Yuneec Typhoon H drone at CES 2016 conference in Las Vegas. (Photo: Intel)

Add Intel to the list of major high-tech companies buying into the drone industry. The semiconductor manufacturer revealed this month that it will acquire German drone maker Ascending Technologies, aligning itself with companies including Amazon, Google and Facebook as a drone platform provider.

Ascending Technologies, a manufacturer of autopilot systems and multi-rotor drones based in Krailing, Germany, provides Intel with aerial platforms to further develop its “RealSense” depth-sensing camera and advanced computing processors for airborne collision avoidance and other functions. The RealSense camera module weighs as little as 8 grams and is less than 4 mm thick, says Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel.

In August, Intel announced that it was investing $60 million in another drone manufacturer, Yuneec Electric Aviation of Hong Kong. Yuneec’s new Typhoon H multi-rotor drone with RealSense technology was featured in the keynote address Intel CEO Brian Krzanich delivered on January 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The chipmaker has also invested in drone autopilot and software developer Airware, of San Francisco, and remote-sensing company PrecisionHawk, of Raleigh, N.C.

Among the first major high-tech companies to reveal its drone ambitions was online retailer Amazon, which is developing a proprietary series of small drones to someday deliver packages to customers’ homes. In November, Amazon unveiled a hybrid drone design that would rise vertically and transition to horizontal flight. Google X, the research and development spin-off of the Internet search engine giant, is also developing a delivery drone. And in 2014, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, the developer of a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft that could serve as an Internet node from the stratosphere. Social media site Facebook is developing its own HALE aircraft, named Aquila, after acquiring its UK-based developer Ascenta Aerospace the same year.

A second major semiconductor manufacturer—Qualcomm—unveiled the “Snapdragon Flight” processor for drones in September. Based on the company’s Snapdragon 801 chip, the flight unit supports dual-band connectivity, GNSS locating, 4K video resolution and fast battery charging.

Joshua Walden, general manager of Intel’s new technology group, described his company’s interest in unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November. “It has become increasingly clear to us that UAVs, like cars and watches, are a computing platform of the future. Applications and services enabled by this new connected UAV ecosystem will spur significant economic growth and will be driven by innovations in UAV technology,” Walden said, according to written testimony.

“We are optimistic that Intel has the engineering prowess in computing and sensor technology to help the United States lead the way,” he added. “We are actively creating the silicon architecture and computing power that will create an onboard drone platform that has outstanding speed, performance and functionality.”