Intel shows drones that sense and avoid obstacles

Before it was public knowledge, I knew that Yuneec and Intel were up to something... You may recall that we did a video a while back in which we interviewed Yuneec CEO Tian Yu and he gave us a peek at the Wizard before it was widely known to the public.

You may have noticed that the interview was recorded at an airport. This is Hillsboro Airport, about a half an hour from my house, where Mr. Yu had flown in for a meeting. We were sworn to secrecy at the time, but we knew that the company was Intel, which maintains substantial operations in that area. Eventually, the partnership they forged that day became common knowledge, but I continued to wonder what they were working on together.


Well, now we know: incorporating Intel's RealSense technology into a drone to create a collision avoidance system. This is an obvious feature to add to a drone – I mused about the possibility of using ultrasonic sensors to achieve this same outcome back in April 2013, when we did a video about a palm-sized quad from Walkera that used sonar for altitude hold.

The real surprise, for me at least, is how well it appears to work. This is one of those things you can probably only really appreciate when you're holding the radio controller with your own two hands, but it certainly appears to work as advertised. Furthermore, I was stunned to learn that not only could it detect and avoid substantial objects like the pillar in the middle of the flight cage, but also the thin strands that made up the flight cage itself.


This system is clearly going to work not only with buildings, cars and people, but also “soft” obstacles like leafy tree branches, chain-link fences, and so forth. I'm genuinely impressed.


The only drawback I see, as this system is implemented on the Typhoon H, is that it's only forward looking – and drones can fly in any direction: forward, backward, left or right. I assume that the system is expensive enough that only having one sensor on board was a financial consideration.

Of course, the one thing we know about technology is that once its utility is proven, the price falls rapidly. This is going to be a big deal in the industry...




Roswell Flight Test Crew