Intel's Aero drone development platform coming next month

I’m excited about this, not least because Aero will support the Dronecode stack out of the box. From PC World:

Intel in December will start shipping a fully loaded drone kit to let you do just that, with all the parts including the rotors, software, 3D camera and flight controller.

Intel’s Aero Ready to Fly Drone kit will go on sale on the company’s website. An Intel spokeperson couldn’t immediately provide a price. But it won’t be cheap—likely more than $600.

The quadcopter kit has parts that Intel uses to build its own drones. On the company’s part, the drone airshows it has organized are getting ambitious: the company has put up 100, and most recently, 500 drones in the sky.

Drones themselves are getting sophisticated. DJI’s Phantom has chips and 3D cameras that can navigate safely while avoiding collisions. The Intel Aero Ready to Fly Drone kit has the 3D RealSense camera, which can measure distances and recognize objects and help the drones, when programmed correctly, to fly autonomously to a given destination.

The 3D RealSense camera attaches to a central computer called the Aero Compute Board, which gives the drone its computing horsepower. (Intel also sells the Aero Compute Board separately for $399.) It is powered by a quad-core Atom X7-Z8700 CPU code-named Cherry Trail. It also has LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and a flight controller. The board also has 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 16GB of flash storage, a micro-SD slot, a micro-HDMI port, and a wide set of connectors for adapters and breakout boards. It also has the Altera Max 10 FPGA, which can reprogrammed for image recognition, navigation and other deep-learning tasks.

The drone will work with the Airmap software development kit for navigation. Programming will also be required to put the drone in the air. For example, you can use the RealSense SDK to program image recognition for the 3D camera.

An overview on how to build drones from the recent Embedded Linux Conference Europe 2016 is available on Youtube.

The kit will ship in some countries in North America, Europe and Asia. For U.S. buyers Intel has included a caveat relating to government regulations on requiring authorization to fly drones.

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SmartAP RTK released

Sky-Drones is introducing SmartAP RTK, this is a perfect addition to the flight controller when positioning precision really matters, it provides centimeter level accuracy. The system is based on the latest UBlox Neo-M8P chipset and is fully integrated across all SmartAP flight controllers and software. Standard telemetry is used to send RTCM corrections via SmartAP GCS. 

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) satellite navigation is a technique used to enhance the precision of position data derived from satellite-based positioning systems (global navigation satellite systems, GNSS). It uses measurements of the phase of the signal’s carrier wave, rather than the information content of the signal, and relies on a single reference station or interpolated virtual station to provide real-time corrections, providing up to centimetre-level accuracy.


  • Centimeter‑level GNSS positioning
  • Integrated Real Time Kinematics (RTK)
  • Smallest, lightest, and energy‑efficient RTK module
  • Complete and versatile solution due to base and rover variants
  • World‑leading GNSS positioning technology
  • UBlox NEO M8P chipset based
  • 25mm ceramic patch antenna
  • GPS / GLONASS support
  • Up to 24 satellites
  • 18 / 10 Hz update rate (GPS / GPS + GLONASS)
  • Rechargeable 3V lithium backup battery
  • Ultra-Low noise 3.3V regulator
  • Power and fix indicator LEDs
  • Exposed RX, TX, 5V and GND pads
  • Integrated magnetometer on airborne module – HMC5883L
  • UART port for GPS interface
  • USB for base station module
  • Airborne module cable length 30 cm
  • Base station module length 3 m
  • Fully compatible with SmartAP Autopilots

Reported accuracy in single mode operation: 

Reported accuracy in RTK Fixed mode: 

Position estimation is at the level of 1-2 cm. 

More information and ordering:

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Some good (painful) physics lessons in trying to put a 360 video rig under a drone

“9 Lessons Learned from Attaching a Super Heavy, Custom Rig to a Quadcopter”: A very interesting post from Makezine and how to attach things to drones:

Recently, a company called contacted me about mounting a GoPro VR Rig to an Inspire 1 drone. Getting paid to work with new and interesting technology is pretty much the most fun an engineer can have, so I was thrilled to take on this challenge. After about a month of work designing and building the rig, I had something that the customer was pleased with, however, it definitely took some work to get things right. Here are a few of the lessons I learned on this project, as well as a few that I got right the first time!

When in Doubt, Measure or Weigh

At the start of this project, decided themselves what type of drone and camera they wanted to use. The good thing is that two of the project conditions were already taken care of, but on the other hand, I had my doubts about whether this drone could lift what we thought was a 5 pound weight. After the vehicle struggled to lift 4 pounds in a test video (not ours) seen below, a 5 pound weight plus whatever I needed to use to attach it seemed like it would be impossible.

Not having my arms “properly calibrated,” 5 pounds seemed like a good assumption after holding it, but when I went back to their office to discuss the project further, I brought a precision scale. Although I thought this might have been the end of the project, the rig actually weighted in at a much more manageable 2 pounds. It was time to start planning

Ideas Come… Eventually


An Early Design Idea

The obvious solution to mount this rig was to run some sort of rod down from the center of the DJI Inspire. This has been done before, but I didn’t see a good way to do it without modifying the quadcopter itself. For better or worse, when I can’t figure something out, it just tends to churn over and over in my head until I have a good solution. Perhaps I should figure out how to charge for these random “unguided brainstorming” sessions. On the other hand, listing “$300: staring off into space for several hours” on an invoice likely wouldn’t go over too well.

The final idea hit me while driving, “Why not mount it to the carbon fiber rods attached to the motors?” I’m not exactly sure how inspiration struck, but having 30 minutes or so where I was entirely free from distraction besides staring at the road really seemed to do the trick. Perhaps taking a break from everything once in a while is a good idea in the creative process. Just remember to note your great ideas down when they come!

Pay in Dollars or in Weight


One thing that struck me while doing this was how expensive carbon fiber and other lightweight components are. The rods attaching the camera rig carrier to the Inspire cost well over $100, and I purchased several components in aluminum that traditionally would be made out of steel. Add to that some machining time to take off extra material, and the costs really start to add up.

Angular Momentum Matters

The whole time I was designing this, I concentrated on weight and keeping the Inspire far away from the VR rig in order to keep the shots as clear as possible. Unfortunately, the farther away from the quadcopter the weight is mounted, the greater the angular momentum acting on it. As seen in the video below, before I reduced the length of the rods, things did not go well:

Or as Archimedes said: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Perhaps today he’d also add, “…Or death-spiral a quadcopter.”

Test Incrementally

After the first failed experiment, we loaded up the quadcopter incrementally. First we just used the rig with no weight, then a lighter Samsung camera, and finally a weight representing the Omni. There was no real problem this time, but perhaps if we’d tried this procedure the first time, we could have avoided a crash.

Record Your Trials, Know When to Bail

The one upside to this crash was that we did record it from several angles. Besides perhaps being educational for others or even myself pursuing their own filming system, I found it quite entertaining.

One thing that may stick out is that while the pilot tried to go catch the Inspire, you can see me leaving. Though it might not look very “heroic,” having worked on and around machinery for many years, I always try to remember that your hands, eyes, or life isn’t worth whatever piece of equipment you’re working on. When things start to crash, in most cases it’s best just to let it happen.

Practice On Small Drones is Good


During this process, I said that I didn’t want to fly the drone, I’d leave it up to the customer. Probably a good policy, but while I had it to work on, I needed to do some landing gear testing and decided to take it up myself. I had permission, and had been assured that it was OK with the customer, but obviously didn’t want to crash their multi-thousand dollar quadcopter.

To my pleasant surprise though, the controls worked in the same manner as the little Hubsan drones that I’d crashed hundreds of times, and I was able to take off and land with no problem.

Don’t Take Risks with Other People’s Equipment

Though it was easy to fly with no payload, after trying it out myself, I requested to fly the entire rig during our final test. This wasn’t a problem initially, but when I decided to pull in for a landing I was a little off, tilting the quadcopter, and eventually causing it to topple and crash. Fortunately, there was no serious damage, but I was quite embarrassed. The gimbal mount was cracked (re-cracked actually, since I repaired it from the first crash), and one of my custom rod ends pulled out of the carbon fiber.

Not good.

Take All the Tools You Might Need


The good news on this though is that I brought everything I though I would possibly need to the test site. Once I’d examined the defects, within a few minutes I had epoxy drying in the appropriate places, and the drone’s normal pilot went on to film on location in a few days. Here’s some footage that he took:

Overall it was a successful project, and I hope I can help them with other projects in the future. If you’re interested in building your own rig, I put my design and bill of materials up here (with permission) as well as more information on the design process. I invite you to check it out, and hopefully this post helps you realize what went into building it!

Featured Image Photo Credit: PJ Accetturo,

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DroneDeploy: Enterprise Grade or Not?

DroneDeploy’s new App Market fills a need for commercial drone use, but can the data quality measure up for widespread industrial use?


This past week, DroneDeploy introduced its new App Market, a store for drone applications from a range of companies—including Autodesk, Box, John Deere, and 13 others—as well as a variety of industry verticals. Additionally, it includes applications from Airmap, Dronelogbook, Flyte, Kittyhawk, NV Drone, Skyward, and Verifly that help pilots and businesses manage drone operations and compliance.  In a nutshell, these apps enable enterprises and drone-based business service providers to automate their workflow and data integration with specialized tools built right within the DroneDeploy user interface.

In one way or another, the apps enable businesses to extend the capability of DroneDeploy’s automated mapping and online drone data services with apps that augment flight planning, logging, data analysis, export, and more. Apps appear in different areas of the DroneDeploy interface, depending on what they do, and you install them in your DroneDeploy account. For example, a flight planning app will appear in the flight planning interface, whereas an export or integration app may appear in the export menu. You can read about the details of this announcement here.


The three apps that stand out in this announcement and make progress toward workflow goals are Autodesk, Box, and John Deere. In a generic sense, “workflow” is the…

Read more here:

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STM32H7 previews

Next generation STM32. 400 MHz clock. Up to 1Mb RAM. Double precision hardware floating point. There is enough RAM there to start using dynamic loading of code. You can also increase the FLASH using memory mapped QUADSPI

And all at low power consumption they say! Nice!

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Details of this weekend's Self Racing Cars hackathon in Berkeley

For those in the SF Bay Area and interested in the DIY autonomous car scene (which I’m also part of), here’s the latest on our hackathon this weekend

Self Driving Racers, 
Carl, Joshua and I are looking forward to seeing you all this Sunday (10:00am – 3:00pm) in Berkeley for the meetup/hackathon. Here’s some information to help you prepare and otherwise make the most of the event. 
It’s going to be mostly indoors, in Carl’s new workshop (in that happy window between a new space and it being totally filled with equipment). Here’s about 1/4 of it, under construction a few weeks ago:

In that space, we’re going to have a track. By “track” I mean strips of colored tape, roughly like this (thanks to the Formula Pi team for the inspiration):

If you want to race, bring a ~1/10 scale car/rover (anything under about two feet long) that is capable of autonomous navigation with computer vision. Already got something like that? Great! If not, if you’ve got a RC car and Raspberry Pi + camera, you can start with the Formula Pi code (forked version here), although please note that that code does assume you’re using the ZeroBorg motor controller board with a Raspberry Pi Zero. If you don’t have that board, you’ll have to modify the code to support whatever motor controller you are using. 

I’ll have 3-4 Raspberry Pi-based rovers available for people to hack on. They don’t have the ZeroBorg boards, so no guarantees that they’re ready to roll without modifications. But who knows? Perhaps I’ll have them running by then. 

As an additional navigation aid, we’ll have a ultrawideband indoor positioning system set up. This uses the Pozyx system, so if you’ve got one of those, you should be able to use that. 
What about larger autonomous cars, from go-karts to full-size? If you’ve got one, bring it for show and tell! We may have access to the parking lot a block away for some slow-speed driving, but no guarantees and definitely no racing. 

The famous Carl Bass autonomous monkeymobile will be there. Rides may be offered, although you’ll have to fight the monkey for the wheel.

Other stuff that will be provided: Tables, chairs, power, wifi, coffee, pizza. And interesting fun.

Don’t worry if you don’t have anything to bring/hack on. You’re welcome to just hang out and do the meetup thing. Or help others hack their things. This is that brief moment where we can all be n00bs. Someday our cars are supposed to be perfectly safe and autonomous. But for now, let’s hack and crash while we still can. 

Looking forward to seeing you all on on Sunday. 


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Next-generation FPGA flight controllers coming

Interesting preview of a very powerful new autopilot from Aerotenna: 

The Revolutionary SoC Flight Controller

OcPoC (Octagonal Pilot on Chip) is the SoC FPGA-based open-source flight control platform engineered to bring you greatly enhanced I/O capabilities and processing power that is unparalleled by any other platform of its class. Including the traditional sensor options for common peripherals, OcPoC also expands its input and output capabilities to include fully programmable PWM, PPM and GPIO pins to integrate with a vast number of different sensor additions. It also includes many other standardized connectors for peripherals such as GPS, CSI camera link and SD card. Drone developers can integrate various sensors and have the processing power to not only run ArduPilot but also implement real-time processing of sensor data simultaneously. OcPoC opens the door for drone development to the next level.

OcPoC-Zynq is powered by the Xilinx Zynq processor which combines the flexibility of FPGA architecture with the processing power of ARM, all in one SoC. Along with the I/O expansion, OcPoC provides increased processing power capable of achieving real-time sensor fusion and onboard data processing. This advanced system caters to both the UAV enthusiast that wants a ready-to-fly package and also to programmers and developers wanting a platform to power their ideas.


• First Xilinx SoC FPGA-based flight controller
• FPGA + ARM Cortex A9 dual-core processor
• Over 100 I/Os for sensor integration
• Video streaming and processing capabilities
• Enhanced GPS and IMU sensor packages
• PX4 and APM compatible (
• Open-source hardware and software platform

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Disney bringing Intel Shooting Stars "drone fireworks" to its parks


The Federal Aviation Administration last week granted Disney a waiver so it can show off its amazing drone skills in the Orlando and Anaheim parks. Not a company known to wait well, it’s already released a video teasing Disney’s use of the drones to create what appears to be a floating, rotating Christmas tree.

The clip, posted Monday to its Disney Parks Blog, is brief (less than 30 seconds, and is just a teaser), but shows several people coordinating the drone effort, probably licensed drone pilots as required by the FAA waiver.

In the application to the FAA from October 2015, Disney stated that the drones (which it calls “Flixels”… how adorably Disney is that?) would operate in no-fly zones away from guests in restricted areas. In addition, the filing stated that these Flixels are less than 40 inches in diameter, weigh less than 10 pounds and fly at “six knots groundspeed” or about 7 mph.

The drone-love is nothing new for Disney — it filed multiple patent applications in 2014, including one for marionettes supported by drones. And this year, the company was granted a patent for a drone with an attached projector.

Keep in mind this is a teaser and not a guarantee that we will see anything this new this holiday season. Much like the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout or Star Wars-Land, no timeline for these experiences has been announced.

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ArduPilot: Copter 3.4.1 released

Hi all

A huge amount of effort has gone into this exciting new release of ArduPilot: Copter 3.4.1.

The new features are mostly described on ArduPilot forum blog post but the first few are copied here: 

New Features (in alphabetical order mostly):

  1. New boards/frames supported including:
  2. ADSB sensor (from uAvionix) support and FailSafe to help avoid incidents with manned aircraft

  3. Attitude control improvements including completion of move to Quaternions
  4. ACRO_Y_EXPO allows exponential yaw in ACRO mode (coming to other modes soon)
  5. AutoTune robustness improvements especially for larger vehicles (reduce chance gains go too low)
  6. Boat Mode allows easier takeoff from boats

.. and much more!

3.4.1 just added Pixracer PPM input fix

3.4.2 RC1/2 work is already well advanced and will be available shortly, but consists only on small minor improvements.
For some of us that fly small drones the support for the PixRacer is fantastic, and even the new PixHawk 2.1 from ProfiCNC is already supported.

Overall is a great release, with a high degree of professional work by the entire ArduPilot team.

Happy flying, and keep the feedback on the forum

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