Intel targets commercial market with company-branded Falcon 8+ drone

The company is looking at drones as a new market for its chips and other technologies

Intel has introduced a company-branded commercial drone, the Falcon 8+, for North American markets, with the aim to lead in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market, particularly in the commercial segment.

The chip maker has been looking at new opportunities for its silicon and other technologies outside its traditional markets like PCs, more so after its lackluster performance in the smartphone market. It has already dabbled in the consumer drone market through Yuneec's Typhoon H, which uses Intel's RealSense computer vision platform for intelligent obstacle navigation. Intel has also introduced the Intel Aero Platform for developers to build their own drones.

The opportunity for Intel is that many countries including the U.S. are slowly liberalizing rules for the use of commercial and consumer drones. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced rules in June this year for the commercial use of drones, but its provisions such as a line-of-sight restriction on the use of the UAVs fell short of industry demands for permission to fly multiple drones beyond line-of-sight under control of a single operator.

Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich heads an advisory committee set up by the FAA to advise it on policy measures going forward for the integration of unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace.

The total addressable value of drone powered applications in all applicable industries is estimated to be over US$127 billion, according to a report in May by PwC. The industry with the best prospects for drone applications is infrastructure, with total addressable value of just over $45 billion, according to the study that bases its estimate on the 2015 value of businesses and labor in each industry that may be replaced by drone powered applications.

Intel has been making a number of investments to boost its capabilities in drones. It said in January it was acquiring Ascending Technologies, a designer of drones with auto-pilot software in Krailing, Germany. Last month, the chip maker said it would acquire Movidius, a designer of low-power and high-performance SoC (system-on-a-chip) platforms for accelerating computer vision applications, which supplies chips to drone makers like DJI.

The Intel Falcon 8+ builds up on the AscTec Falcon 8 from Ascending Technologies, and is the first Intel-branded commercial drone, wrote Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Technology Group, in a blog post. The V-form octocopter, with full electronic system redundancy covering batteries, communications and sensing, is outfitted for industrial inspection, surveying and mapping for professionals and experts, according to Intel.

The Falcon 8+ is powered with AscTec Trinity technology, which is a triple-redundant autopilot with three redundant inertial measurement units that compensate for external influences like electromagnetic fields or strong winds. It also comes with a redesigned tablet-based mobile ground station called Intel Cockpit, with a joystick for single-handed flight control and a water-resistant user interface, and Intel Powerpack smart batteries as the power supply.

The UAV, which measures 768 x 817 x 160 millimeters and has a take off weight of 2.8 kilograms, “provides detailed images down to millimeter accuracy and gives valuable structural analysis that helps users detect and prevent further damage to infrastructure,” Walden wrote.

The Intel Falcon 8+ system was announced Tuesday by the company at the 2016 INTERGEO drone conference in Hamburg. No details on pricing and availability have been provided.

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