For the last two years our favorite drone here at The Verge has been the DJI Phantom. The Chinese startup has succeeded in large part because it built a unit cheap and easy enough for consumers, but powerful enough for professionals. Now that the FAA is granting commercial exemptions and US companies are finally taking flight, the majority of them are choosing to use DJI's consumer-facing drones for their business. Today, DJI announced the launch of the Manifold, a powerful computer that could allow DJI drones to perform far more complex mapping, data analysis, and image recognition, all in real time.
In making its own computer for advanced drone applications, DJI is taking on companies like Qualcomm and Intel, both of which have products in the works they hope will be the foundation underlying advanced computation for aerial robots. We saw Intel's RealSense powering cutting edge sense-and-avoid technology. More recently, Qualcomm announced SnapDragon Flight, a chipset optimized for use in drones. The Manifold runs an Ubuntu operating system and has a Quad-core ARM Cortex A-15 Processor and NVIDIA Kepler-based GPU. It also comes with USB, Ethernet, and HDMI ports.
This is the second product DJI has released that is aimed principally at the developer community. Back in June of this year it debuted the Matrice, the first DJI drone with robust sense-and-avoid technology. That unit also had a modular payload, meaning it will probably be easy for developers using the Matrice to side-load the Manifold. The average consumer is unlikely to ever use either of these devices. But the innovation they enable in terms of new hardware and software will no doubt trickle down quickly to improve DJI's more accessible drones.