Intel Launches Its First Branded Drone

The Falcon 8+ is the result of the chip maker buying Ascending Technologies earlier this year and is aimed at industrial and commercial uses.

Falcon 8+

Intel officials have cited drones as an important growth market for the chip maker, and the company has been aggressive in getting its technologies—including silicon and software—into devices from other companies.

Now Intel is rolling out a drone of its own, with the company's name not only on components inside the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), but also on the outside.

At the InterGeo 2016 show this week, Intel officials unveiled the Falcon 8+, the company's first branded drone. It builds off the work done on the Falcon 8, a commercial drone developed by Ascending Technologies, a startup that Intel had worked with before buying it earlier this year. The octocopter is designed for industrial and commercial work, including inspection, surveying and mapping, and comes with a broad range of capabilities and a sophisticated control unit.

"Drones are an important computing platform for the future, and Intel is positioning itself at the forefront of this opportunity to provide the compute, sensor, communications and cloud integration for the growing drone ecosystem," Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's New Technology Group, wrote in a post on the company blog. "The system provides detailed images down to millimeter accuracy and gives valuable structural analysis that helps users detect and prevent further damage to infrastructure. Operators will have tremendous opportunities to generate valuable aerial precision data."

The drone market—for both consumers and business users—is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. In a recent report on the general state of aviation in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicted that by 2020 about 4.3 million UAVs will be sold to consumers, and another 2.7 million will be sold to businesses for commercial use. The FAA is trying to get out in front of the trend by developing regulations regarding drone operations.

Intel and Qualcomm have been among the most aggressive chip makers in the drone space. Intel has worked with and invested in drone makers like Yuneec—whose Typhoon H uses Intel's RealSense 3D camera technology to help navigate and avoid obstacles—and Ascending, which had rolled out the AscTec Falcon 8, which also includes Intel products. Intel also offers the Intel Aero Platform that gives developers the foundation on which to build their own drones.

The chip maker also is partnering with AT&T to test drone capabilities and has put on nighttime displays where a hundred drones are launched into the sky and operated by a single pilot. In addition, CEO Brian Krzanich chairs an FAA advisory board that will help the agency create regulations for drones.

Drone developers initially targeted the consumer space, but now more of the systems—such as the AscSec 8—are making their way into the commercial market. Now comes the Falcon 8+ from Intel. The new UAV reportedly can travel up to 35 mph, and includes Intel's Powerpack for longer battery life—up to 26 minutes at a time—and the AscTec Trinity technology, which officials described as a triple-redundant autopilot that includes measurement capabilities that make up for external pressures like electromagnetic fields or strong winds.

The drone is controlled via the Intel Cockpit, which uses an Intel-based tablet (most other user faces are based on smartphones), which company officials said makes for easier operation. The controller is water-resistant, features a joystick and supports live views of up to 1080p resolutions.