Intel goes big on drones with another acquisition, collision-dodging CES demos

For Intel at CES 2016, it seems the word is "drone." As in, it just announced yet another acquisition in drone technology and showed off some high-flying drone acrobatics during the CEO's keynote on Tuesday evening.

Using an Intel RealSense camera and an Intel CPU with collision avoidance technology that it developed with Ascending Technologies, "this drone goes everywhere," Intel CEO Brian Krzanich told the audience. The on-stage demo showed how the drone can follow a bike rider even when confronted with obstacles like fake trees; the drone optically followed the biker on stage and even took the "lead" mode, flying in front of the bike.

The demo came after Intel signaled its latest move in the fast-growing drone market, signing a definitive agreement to acquire Krailing, Germany-based drone maker Ascending. Intel boasts that Ascending delivers "best-in-class" drone auto-pilot software and algorithms. The move follows Intel's acquisition of Chinese drone maker Yuneec Holding last year and investments in at least two other drone companies, Airware and Precisionhawk.

Unmanned aerial vehicles circle in a protected area of Intel's display space at CES. (Credit: Intel Corp./Walden Kirsch)

From disaster response to infrastructure inspection and delivering goods, drones -- also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- offer an "incredible opportunity for innovation across a multitude of industries," wrote Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's New Technology Group, in a blog post. "As a result, Intel is positioning itself at the forefront of this opportunity to increasingly integrate the computing, communications, sensor and cloud technology required to make drones smarter and more connected."

Intel previously partnered with Ascending Technologies to use Intel's RealSense real-time depth sensing technology in its "sense and avoid" software, which helps drones detect objects and safely navigate around them. That software development is a key reason for the acquisition, Walden wrote. "With Ascending Technologies, Intel gains expertise and technology to accelerate the deployment of Intel RealSense technology into the fast growing drone market segment," he said. "We plan for the Ascending Technologies team to continue supporting their current customers while also collaborating with Intel's Perceptual Computing team to develop UAV technology that can help drones fly with more awareness of their environments."

Indeed, T-Mobile US CEO and President John Legere recently shared his forecasts for the new year, which includes more practical uses for drones. He also noted that T-Mobile already uses drones to inspect towers in hard-to-reach areas.

A year ago, ABI Research said it expects the small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) market will surpass $8.4 billion by 2018. By 2019 the commercial sector will dominate the overall sUAS market with revenues exceeding $5.1 billion. With so much interest increasing in the commercial and hobby sectors, the FAA last month released rules for registering small drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds (250 g) and less than 55 pounds (25 kg).

For more:
- see this Intel blog
- see this Ars Technica story
- see this CNET story
- see this EE Times article

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