Intel® and 3D Robotics are now working together to make faster and smarter drones.

So what do I mean by “Intel® and 3D Robotics working together”. Well basically, Intel came out with a new general purpose compute platform called Edison, and 3D robotics is now planning on using it for their next generation autopilot system.

What is Edison?

At the beginning of the year back at CES 2014, Intel announced Edison, their tiny computer inside an SD card. The Intel Edison is basically a really small computer running linux, it has 1GB of ram, a 500Mhz dual core, dual threaded processor, Bluetooth, WiFi and more. Back then, they were showing it being used inside a smart baby-monitoring system, but their demonstration didn’t seem all that interesting.

Since the announcement a few months ago, big changes were made to create the final production version of Edison. One big change is that it’s no longer in the shape of an SD card. It looks more like a CPU with an antenna plug on the top, and a small port on the bottom for connecting to breakout boards.

Intel is now marketing the Edison to the maker movement community as a tiny little computer that can run powerful software like Mathematica, or even the Wolfram language, which basically means that it’s essentially a Raspberry Pi, but about 5 times smaller and a bit faster! The price for Edison will be around $50. You can also get it with all kinds of cool attachments from a site called SparkFun. The only thing that the Edison doesn’t have is a graphics card, which just means that it can’t output video to a computer like the Raspberry Pi can, but that isn’t important if you’re just sticking it on a drone anyway.

What is 3D Robotics Doing With Intel?

From what I understand, 3D Robotics has been working with Intel to get the Edison working with 3DR’s existing Pixhawk autopilot system. This is a really cool idea, but from the video they showed, it looked like everything was very rough around the edges. The two systems were working together, but there were wires and external electronics all over the place. Everything that they’re doing right now is very new and in the prototyping stages, so I wouldn’t expect to see any 3D Robotics products powered by Intel any time soon.

In the future, the Edison will probably act as the main brains and communication for some type of flight controller hub that 3D Robotics will design, but that’s just speculation.

Why Do We Need Smarter Flight Controllers

Right now, there are quite a few companies like Amazon and Google who are trying to figure out how to start delivering goods using drones. There are also tons of other uses for small drones. Most of the autonomous applications for drones out there require them to not only follow a path, but be fully aware of their environment. To do this, you can’t just rely on sensors like GPS. We need cameras—Cameras that can see the world just like we humans can—Cameras that can track objects, figure out their environment and avoid potential collisions. We also need to solve navigation problems like the loss of GPS signals, or low visibility. To do this, we need faster, cheaper and smaller computers.

In the grand scheme of things, I think that the Edison is one small drop, in a rather large bucket that’s nowhere near full, but it’s a good start.


The 3D Robotics Video

In this video 3D Robotics talks about how the Edison can track and follow you without the use of a hand held GPS. While that may be the case and it’s really cool, I can’t find any proof, nor do they give any real indication that they’re actually doing this at the moment.