Pondering post-PC life, Intel dabbles in drones with $1,099 quadcopter

Intel is now selling the Aero Ready to Fly drone, which is pre-assembled and comes with a RealSense 3D camera

Intel has made a name for itself in PCs and servers but is now dabbling in a new product category with its first-ever quadcopter now on sale.

The chipmaker's US$1,099 Aero Ready to Fly Drone comes fully assembled, with an integrated flight controller. It also comes with a remote control receiver and transmitter.

The drone has cool features like auto-pilot, with the ability to self-navigate by coordinating GPS and recognizing surroundings to avoid collisions. It has a 3D RealSense depth camera that can recognize objects and take rough measurements.

The Aero drone has a carbon fiber frame, electronic speed controllers, motors, and propellers. It has a range of sensors including an altimeter and magnetometer.

For all its cool features, it doesn't come with a battery pack. Intel recommends buying a specific type of high-capacity lithium-polymer, and details can be found on Intel's website.

Intel has been chasing the drone market aggressively, and it has been putting on aerial shows including one choreographed for the Superbowl. The company put 300 drones in the air, and they changing colors and drew up images in the sky. The drones make coordinated movements, and algorithms helped draw up a flight path and the in-air animations.

The Aero Ready to Fly Drone is similar to the one already flying in Intel's shows. It's also reprogrammable -- computer vision applications can be coded into the drone.

Some drone users just want something to develop their apps on, which is where the Aero Ready to Fly Drone fits in, an Intel spokesman said.

A comparable drone is DJI's Phantom 4, which sells for $1,199. Like Intel's drone, it has a 3D camera to visualize the flight and has obstacle-tracking sensors to avoid crashes. It has a 28-minute flight time.

Intel already sells a $399 Aero Development Kit, which is aimed at people who want to program and build a drone from scratch. Users have to buy the RealSense camera, rotors, and other accessories separately.

The Aero Ready to Fly drone is based on the company's Aero Compute Board, which has an Atom x7-Z8750 processor. Other specifications include 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and a USB 3.0 port.

It also has a front-facing 8-megapixel camera and a downward-facing VGA camera which helps in smooth flight. It has an ARM-based microcontroller for autopilot features and a reprogrammable FPGA (field programmable gate array). It runs on an embedded Linux OS.

Unfortunately, it won't ship to all countries. A list is available on Intel's website.

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