Last year we awarded a best in show prize to the Asctec Firefly, a drone built by Germany's Ascending Technologies in partnership with Intel. It showed off some of the most robust sense and avoid technology we had encountered to date. Those capabilities were powered by a combination of Intel's RealSense camera and Ascending's auto-pilot software.
Along with a working partnership, Intel also invested in Ascending last year. Today, it consummates that relationship, acquiring the company wholesale. In a blog post Intel stated that "with Ascending Technologies, Intel gains expertise and technology to accelerate the deployment of Intel RealSense technology into the fast growing drone market segment."
We've known since last year that the big chip makers see drones as a massive opportunity. Qualcomm announced earlier this year that it would begin producing a modified version of its Snapdragon chip just for drones. It plans to show off what a drone equipped with that technology can do later in the week. The company believes drones will become a ubiquitous tool, much like the camcorder was in the 1990s. And it sees the market as part of its broader attempt to build chips for robots and smart appliances, all of which fall under its Internet of Things division.
Drones are just flying computers, and driverless cars will be next
For drone enthusiasts the growing commitment to the market by these massive chip makers is good news. It will almost certainly lead to economies of scale and lower prices. Qualcomm went so far as to promise 4K camera drones with twice the battery life at a third of the price.
The bigger picture for chip makers is probably the auto industry. Much of the fundamental technology underlying autonomous drones — from computer vision to artificial intelligence to positioning and navigation — will have parallels in the driverless car market. Optimizing their technology for autonomous vehicles and testing that tech in real world conditions will help lay a foundation for future lines of business.