Qualcomm Takes Aim at the Consumer Drone Market
In the commercial market, much of the attention has been on top-tier companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, which are all interested in using drones to deliver products. In March, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave Amazon permission to begin testing its drone package-delivery system. In addition, this summer, officials with Nokia Networks announced a partnership with Du, a telecommunications provider in the Middle East, to create a proof-of-concept to show that drones can be used to help telcos test and analyze their networks. However, interest from businesses beyond these high-profile examples has spiked. According to a database pulled together by the tech news site The Verge, at the beginning of the year, the FAA had granted special exemptions to only about a dozen companies to fly drones. During the first half of the year, the regulatory agency handed out more than 900 exemptions to companies aiming to use them for a range of jobs, from inspections of cooling towers and wind turbines to agriculture, land surveying and security services. Tech vendors are taking notice. Rival chip maker Intel—which has featured drones using its technology during recent conferences—announced in August that it is investing more than $60 million into Yuneec, a China-based drone manufacturer. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said at the time that the company believes "in a smart and connected world, and one of the best ways to bring that smart and connected world to everyone and everywhere has been drones." (As an aside, Qualcomm officials also announced that Yuneec is one of the first companies to adopt the Snapdragon Flight, with plans to launch a drone based on the platform next year. Snapdragon Flight is available now to certain manufacturers, with the expectation that drones powered by the module will be on the market in the first half of 2016.)While there are benefits to drones for both businesses and consumers, there also are safety concerns. A recent FAA report found that airplane pilots this year have had almost 700 near-misses with drones that were flying higher than they're allowed.
Other vendors, like Sony, also are embracing the drone market. Sony has partnered with Japanese firm ZMP to create a new drone company called Aerosense and last month showed off videos of a drone that reportedly can travel at 106 mph.