Tech Innovation

New Era for Smart Drones That Can See

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

Computer vision brings collision avoidance, new level of autonomous capabilities to Yuneec’s Typhoon H, the first personal unmanned aerial vehicle powered by Intel RealSense camera technology

Last year’s drone prototypes showed what has become this year’s must-have feature in drones: human-like vision.

At CES 2015, Ascending Technologies showed how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) equipped with computer vision could play ping-pong or game of drones without colliding or crashing into objects at rest or in motion. One year later, drone fans can get their hands one of the first Intel RealSense camera-equipped UAVs to hit the market, the Typhoon H by Yuneec.

During his 2016 CES keynote, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich demonstrated how the UAV uses Intel RealSense and Intel Atom technologies to take drone experiences to new heights.


“It’s the world’s most advanced collision-avoidance system for consumer drones,” said Krzanich. The first Typhoon Hs will be available to consumers in the first half of 2016 for less than $2,000.

“It truly understands its environments and can react to real time obstacles.”

Just off the keynote stage, the Typhoon H followed a mountain bike rider through an obstacle course, while sensing and avoiding obstacles, intelligently adjusting in real-time whenever something fell into its flight path.

“There are endless uses in sports and beyond,” Krzanich said. “We’re on the verge of a digital revolution and this tech will fuel new experiences.”

Sales of drones are up 170 percent year over year, according to trend watcher Mary Meeker, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. This phenomenal growth is giving rise to a substantial drone economy as more businesses and consumers use them.

While regulations and privacy concerns vary in different parts of the world, a new generation of farmers, hobbyist, artists, filmmakers and social change makers are discovering new ways of using UAVs.

“Our Typhoon series drones were designed with the first-time pilot in mind, giving them confidence to become expert pilots and capture great video or photo intuitively,” said Shan Phillips, CEO of Yuneec USA.

The lightweight Typhoon H is equipped with six folding rotors and detachable props, a 360-degree gimbal, 4K video and 12 megapixel still camera and retractable landing gear, which fits a custom-designed hardcase/backpack.

Phillips said the addition of Intel RealSense camera technology brings new features and a new level of safety to the Typhoon H. A drone with RealSense removes the stress of avoiding obstacles and gives people new ways of capturing amazing moments.

“Imagine riding through the forest and not having to worry about your drone hitting trees or people, but focusing on the task at hand — getting the coolest video,” said Phillips.

In his article for The Verge, Ben Popper wrote, “If this tech works well, that would be a very compelling reason for any pilot, beginner or professional, to pick this drone over the current competition, none of which offer anything like robust sense and avoid.”

Phillips said the Typhoon H is a true, all-in-one unit.

“It will come with new task modes such as Orbit, Journey, Point of Interest and Curve Cable Cam that operators can use without external equipment,” he said.


His team meticulously tested and tweaked the camera sensor and software to get everything to respond just right.

“Nothing groundbreaking happens overnight,” said Phillips.

He said that Intel’s recent $60 million investment and close relationship has validated Yuneec as one of the leading companies of drone manufacturers.

A deeper dive into the sense-and-avoid capabilities of RealSense technology reveals auto-pilot software and algorithms from Ascending Technologies, a Germany-based company recently acquired by Intel.

“RealSense is a game changer because it solves a fundamental problem of 3D stereo in a very small module while minimizing the load on the main processor,” said Jan Stumpf, CEO of Ascending Technologies.

“This enables us to use multiple sensors that require relatively little processing power, leaving a lot of computational power for the obstacle avoidance,” he said.

For many years, Ascending Technologies has shared their Research Line UAVs with makers, universities and research institutes, resulting in valuable discoveries.

“By constantly adding different sensors and payloads we will enable even more possibilities,” said Stumpf.

He said that UAVs are great tools with unlimited capabilities, but success will be determined by their ease of use. Automatic capabilities like obstacle avoidance will make them more accessible and even more useful as new applications take advantage of computer vision.

“The ultimate goal is to fly safely out of the line of sight, control multiple drones by a single operator and give them higher level tasks which they execute with higher autonomy,” said Stumpf.


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