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Will Intel’s Drone Chips Fly?

So, in the eyes of Intel Corp., drones are in, but smartphones are out?

Intel issued a press release early Wednesday (May 4th)—complete with a spectacular video clip showing Intel flying 100 coordinated drones over the sky in Palm Springs, Calif.

The microprocessor giant boasted that it’s “the only company to receive a Section 333 Exemption for multiple UAVs per pilot from the FAA.”

The message is clear. Intel is styling itself as a trailblazer in the nascent market of professional and civilian drones.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich discussed Intel’s drone mission in the video clip as follows:  “Through the event like Drone 100, we are stretching the limits” to find out “how you control 100 robots in the air at once.”

With big talk like that against the background of 100 drones in the dark sky, wow, you almost get goosebumps—even if you aren’t a drone enthusiast. 

After all, everyone—fan boy, Wall Street, and media—tends to step back and stare when the world’s largest CPU vendor thinks big and acts big.

Coming on the heels of Intel’s announcement last Friday canceling the company’s two Mobile SoC platforms—SoFIA and Broxton—Drone 100 turns the page decisively, with a big, crowd-pleasing marketing event that Intel badly needed.

Many in the industry, however, know Intel’s drone effort isn’t just a stunt. It’s genuine and even formidable.

Intel comes armed with a depth sensing technology called RealSense. Even Remi El-Ouazzane, CEO of Movidius, an ultra-low-power computer vision-processor startup, calls Intel’s RealSense “a world-class, quality depth solution.”

Intel also announced earlier this year the acquisition of Ascending Technologies, a German maker of drones that can “see and sense.” Ascending Technologies is believed to have its own drone auto-pilot software and algorithms. Intel’s plan is to combine Ascending Technologies’ sense-and-avoid algorithms with real-time depth-sensing enabled by RealSense.

Put all together, El-Ouazzane told EE Times, and it looks as though all the chip companies in the drone market—Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia and Movidius included—are going after the same target: Autonomous drones.

But here’s the thing.

Something about Intel’s drone efforts reminds me of Intel’s past stumbles in the mobile SoC market.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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