Intel ships $399 Aero board to make drones, and a $249 robotics kit

Intel's Aero Compute Board and Robotics Development Kit come with a RealSense 3D camera

Want to build a drone at home? Intel is shipping its Aero Compute Board so you can get your unmanned aerial vehicle in the sky.

The Aero Compute Board is priced at a hefty $399 and available on Intel's website. It's a complete drone board system in one unit, but you have to buy certain hardware, like rotor blades, separately.

Intel has also started selling its new Robotics Development Kit for $249. The board is meant to be the guts of a robot, providing direction, navigation, decision-making and other capabilities. You can build robots at home with this developer kit.

The PC market isn't as hot as it used to be, so Intel is getting into new businesses and providing hardware to build drones, robots, smart gadgets and wearables. The boards are for hobbyists, and could be used to develop and test products.

Other drone kits in the market include the Qualcomm Snapdragon Flight, and Nvidia's Jetson TK1, which are both priced at $599. Parrot is planning a developer kit called S.L.A.M.dunk, but a shipment date isn't yet available. Otherwise, you can make robots with developer boards like Raspberry Pi.

Drones and robots have already dazzled audiences at Intel keynotes. The company has also flown 100 drones above Sydney Harbor, and showed off something similar outside Palm Springs, California, earlier this year.

A unique feature that sets Intel's new boards apart is the RealSense 3D camera, which provides computer vision to drones and robots. The camera can identify objects, measure distances and avoid obstacles. It is key to helping drones and robots navigate.

The Aero Compute Board has LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a flight controller. The board uses Airmap SDKs for low-altitude flight management of drones. It has a quad-core Atom X7-Z8700 CPU code-named Cherry Trail, which is also used in the Surface 3. It has 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 16GB of flash storage, a micro-SD slot, a micro-HDMI port, and a wide set of connectors for adapters and breakout boards. One surprise is an Altera Max 10 FPGA, which can reprogrammed to deal with multiple input and output mechanisms. The board will be compatible with Linux.

Intel also plans to release a "ready-to-fly" drone kit complete with the board, rotors, remote control and other hardware. The kit was announced at Intel Developer Forum in June, but isn't yet on sale. A shipment date isn't available yet.

The Robotics Development Kit has an Atom x5-Z8350 chip and integrated graphics. It has 32GB of storage, 4GB of RAM, an HDMI port, a gigabit ethernet slot, four USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port. It has an Altera Max V FPGA to interface with external devices. The board will be compatible with Ubuntu 14.04 or 16.04.

Intel has a smaller computer for robots coming called Euclid, which is essentially a full computer inside a RealSense 3D webcam. It is like having a full computer lodged in the eyes of the robot. It has fewer interfaces, but its small size makes it more feasible to develop actual robotics products.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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