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Nvidia, Q'comm drive nascent commercial drone industry

Posted: 12 Nov 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:drone  4k photography  GPU  Flight dev kit 

Nvidia and Qualcomm recently deployed products intended for the development of consumer drones, signifying a sector poised for growth in the near future.

The concept, use and fascination with pilotless aircraft seem unbounded. Probably the most well-known drone is the deadly predator made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems developed in 1994 and used extensively in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Iraq and elsewhere.

One of the largest and scariest drones is the lethal and long-range Northrop Grumman X-47B, a tail-less, strike fighter-sized unmanned aircraft developed for the Navy. It can refuel successfully in air, so it can go anywhere any time.

These man-in-loop drones rely on a remote human operator. Autonomous consumer drones use sensors and cameras to fly without an operator. However, that requires you accept the data frequently and to process it quickly and accurately. It's very compute-intensive, and the processors must be power efficient.

Consumer drones are effectively flying video cameras, attracting chipmakers such as Qualcomm with its 4K-capable Snapdragon used in more than 500 mobile devices. This week, Nvidia joined the flying party, banking on its powerful GPU to win the customers.

Qualcomm's offering is the Flight dev kit, based on a Snapdragon 801 with dual image processors supporting up to 21Mpx for 4K photography, and autonomous flight control using a combination of sensors, GNSS and computer vision. The chip has video encoders supporting simultaneous 4k and 720p streams, and high performance computing with 2GB LPDDR3 and multiple CPU, GPU and DSP cores.

Flight board

Qualcomm's Flight board uses a Snapdragon 801.

The 801 uses the Adreno 330 GPU, rated at 167GFLOPS. For communications it includes 2x2 Wi-Fi.

The company says it has a broad range of planned software modules for Flight. They include its Snapdragon Navigator Flight Control, digital gimbal control, electronic speed control, optical flow detection with object tracker, visual inertial odometry and depth from stereo software.


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