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Intel invests $60 million in drone venture

Aug 28, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 1,134 views

Intel is investing $60 million in UAV firm Yuneec, whose prosumer “Typhoon” drones use Android-based controllers.

Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich and Yuneec International CEO Tian Yu took to YouTube to announce an Intel investment of more than $60 million in the Hong Kong based company to help develop drone technology. No more details were provided except for Krzanich’s claim that “We’ve got drones on our road map that are going to truly change the world and revolutionize the industry.” One possibility is that Intel plans to equip the drones with its RealSense 3D cameras (see farther below).

Typhoon Q500 4k, with Android-based ST-10+ controller on the left and a handheld SteadyGrip on the right
(click image to enlarge)

Yuneec makes several Typhoon branded Q500 quadcopter drones that feature handheld controllers based on Android. The company also makes a higher-end Tornado hexacopter, but this does not appear to use Android.

Earlier this year, 3DR launched its first Linux-based drone, the Solo, around the same time market leader DJI unveiled its third generation Phantom 3. Other players on the lower end include Parrot, which makes Linux-based drones including the low-end Airborne and the higher-end Bebop.

The Yuneec Typhoon series of quadcopters are priced about the same as the Phantom 3 and Solo. There’s a 1080p Q500+ model selling for $1,100, or $1,250 with extra battery and aluminum carrying case, as well as a new 4K-ready Typhoon Q500 4k model that sells for $1,300 to $1,450.

ST-10+ detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The quadcopter craft appears to be the same on both models. The Typhoon can fly for up to 25 minutes using a 5,400mAh battery (spare included), at up to 122 meters (400 feet) at a maximum speed of 8 meters per second. Maximum rotation rate is 65°/s, and maximum roll angle is 35°, says Yuneec. The craft measures 565 x 420 x 330mm (22.2 x 16.5 x 13.0 inches) and weighs 1,130 grams (40 ounces), or 1,700 g (60 oz.) with battery and payload. Yuneec did not respond to queries about which OS runs on the quadcopter itself.

The “ST-10+” Android-based ground station controller also appears to be similar on both models. The controller features a 5.5-inch capacitive touchscreen with 854 x 480 resolution, and also offers joysticks and other piloting and camera controls.

The only major difference between the two models is the 3-axis gimbal camera. The HD-ready Q500+ takes HD video at up to 60fps with 130° field of view, as well as 16-megapixel stills. The 4k version can take 4K video at 30fps, or 1080p at 120fps for slow motion video. It offers a 115° FOV, as well as 12-megapixel still photos.

The anti-vibration gimbal systems used with the cameras have a control accuracy as precise as 0.02°, claims Yuneec. The quadcopters include a 5.8GHz video downlink with a control range of up to 600 meters.

Typhoon Q500 4k gimbal alone (left) and attached to SteadyGrip
(click images to enlarge)

Both models also include a handheld ProAction SteadyGrip mount, so you can detach the gimbal camera unit and attach it to the SteadyGrip for stabilized handheld shots. The device has room for a smartphone running a CGO2+ app to control the camera.

The quadcopters are controlled with a 10-channel, 2.4GHz radio. The firmware provides several follow me modes, as well as an autonomous “Dyamic Return Home” mode. Geofencing features keep you out of FAA no fly zones, and a GPS-based Smart Circle feature ensures the craft stays at least 8 meters away from any object. Smart Circle also restricts flight to no farther than 91 meters from the operator.

Intel’s drone ambitions

No chip details were provided about the Typhoon models, although Intel presumably sees some role for its processors in their future collaborations. The chipmaker has shown that its Linux- and Atom-based Edison module can drive simpler UAVs. The Edison powers the Nixie, a tiny, wearable camera drone that can be unstrapped to take selfies. The device won Intel’s $500,000 grand prize in last year’s Make it Wearable competition.

Nixie product concept
(click image to enlarge)

Last year, 3DR and Intel announced that 3DR was planning to integrate a Linux- and Intel Atom based Intel Edison module in the Iris+ — a higher-end big brother to the Solo — to act as a companion computer to the main Iris+ Pixhawk autopilot. No further announcements have appeared, however.

AscTec Firefly

Intel’s increasing focus on its RealSense 3D cameras may be the main focus for its Yuneec collaboration. In January at CES, Intel and Ascending Technologies demoed an enhanced version of the latter’s AscTec Firefly hexacopter. The UAV ran Ubuntu on Intel-based computers and featured six Intel RealSense 3D cameras.

In the demo, Intel’s Krzanich played a drone version of Pong in which the hexacopter was made to change course simply by moving toward it. Similar RealSense based obstacle avoidance technology may well end up in a Typhoon quadcopter.

Sony demos hybrid fixed-wing Aerosense drone

The Intel announcement closely followed Sony’s release of a YouTube video showing its upcoming, fixed wing/copter hybrid Aerosense drone taking off vertically and then flying like a plane. Few details were provided about the previously tipped, professional class Aerosense. However, the drone is said to fly at up to 106 kilometers per hour for up to two hours, and will eventually carry up to 22 pounds of cargo.

Aerosense prototype
(click image to enlarge)

Sony did not reveal the operating system used by Aerosense. However, its Aerosense hardware partner, ZMP, is known for making Linux-based, self-driving RoboCar electric cars. Sony and ZMP are also collaborating on their own self-driving car.

Sony’s Aerosense demo on YouTube

Further information

More information on Yuneec’s Typhoon UAVs may be found at the Yuneec website.

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