From autonomous cars to autonomous drones, everything is getting smarter. The data and capability that a drone brings need huge amount of computing and processing and is a perfect fit in the Intel strategy, explains Anil Nanduri, Vice President, New Technology Group GM, UAV Segment, Intel
Intel launched its first commercial Falcon 8+ drone at Intergeo 2016. Why did the company think of getting into drone business?
Intel has been working on drones for some years now. Drones are becoming more and more autonomous. In some aspects they are becoming flying computers. As you know Intel has a long history of enabling computer solutions. So it fits in our strategy.
The second part is that when drones come to the sky, you want them to be very safe; you want them to avoid collisions. Intel has real sense technology — it is basically a sensor that is very small, weighs just 8 grams and provides the capability to develop collision avoidance. It prevents drones from hitting cars, bridges, people and other such things. This fundamental capability makes drones safer.
Today, people are using drones for taking photographs at weddings, but the area of commercial utilization is phenomenal. Inspecting a bridge, a tower, inspecting any area after a natural disaster, the damage they do to buildings and surroundings… are all very intense work and are often even unsafe for human visits. Drones can be much quicker, faster and capture a lot of data that needs to be digitized. These drones have payloads and that include high-resolution imageries and infrared/thermal sensors.
Like your phone, even a drone is collecting data and transferring it to Cloud. Connectivity, Cloud and devices become part of IoT ecosystem. And UAVs will be a big part of it in the future
There are an endless number of areas where information from drones can be applied. One drone flight can get you gigabytes of data and all of this data needs to be processed. And then we need to do some analysis to see how we can use that data. So when you look at that aspect — the data and capability that a drone brings need huge amount of computing and processing — it all fits in from the Intel point of view.
Do you think the time was right for you to enter the drone market?
When you look at the drone industry, one of the key features is how a regulation lets you fly the UAVs. Different countries have different regulations for flying. There are countries which see value and potential in it. We are looking at more than $25 billion of opportunity from drone use in the coming decade. The United States has given permission to fly for commercial inspections. In countries like India, where lots of these capabilities can be applied, drone regulations are opening up as governments gradually understand the importance of drones. Drones will help create jobs and digitize our information in a way we use it in future.
What are your views on the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations for UAVs?
FAA is moving a lot faster now. The Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) is very well defined. But even if you look at Part 107, it still talks about a visual line of sight which means that an operator has to see the drones. Over a period of time rules will become more flexible and starts the journey towards full automation.
This regulation could create $82 billion in annual economic growth and as many as 100,000 jobs by 2025. How exactly will it help to drive jobs and industry growth?
There are more than 6 lakh road bridges in the US. Inspecting a bridge is a very complex exercise. And as these infrastructure age, it is more important to know their health and condition. You need to have more frequent inspections, which is not humanly possible on a regular basis. On the other hand, a drone can inspect all such infrastructure for you quickly. This in itself is an economic opportunity. You are saving time, saving cost and creating jobs. And this is not only limited to the US; every country requires drones to inspect their ageing infrastructure.
There is a lot of discussion around the safety aspects of UAVs…
Safety is of utmost importance. UAVs use GPS technologies, LiDAR payloads for laser inspections… different types of information are going to be gathered from systems that fly autonomously. To make them safe, you need to have a very solid flight plan. A very safe way to use is geo-fencing. In some areas, you are not authorized to fly. So you can programme these systems to not fly over certain areas. It is a very simple technique which uses different GPS points and is programmed in a way which stops drones to fly from a particular area. These drones will get smarter and more intelligent and geoinformation is what makes it happen.
Do you see a role for IoT, Cloud and Big Data Analytics in all this?
Definitely! Drones are all about the data that they gather. The amount of data that they gather is huge. All of this will be useful only if we can process it. Computers will help us process these information. Like your phone, even a drone is collecting data and transferring it to Cloud. Connectivity, Cloud and devices become part of IoT ecosystem. And UAVs will be a big part of it in the future.
When you look at a drone you got to think of it in three pieces. One is controlling a drone that has data collection as well. We call it command and control. Then there is data that is collected on the payload which means you are transferring a video or picture. This data, which coming from a drone to a Cloud or a device, is called data packets. Then that data is either on a PC or in Cloud. So you are looking at three different parts of a chain and communication is important in each aspect of it. Communication could be wireless like Wi-Fi or LTE or even 5G in the future. These become your connectivity points and all these devices will be inter-connected in the next decade. So you will see volumes of data getting transferred from one point to another, being analyzed and making useful information. At the end of the day, it is not what the data is, but what it can tell me. Do I need to fix something? Do I need to repair something? Or everything looks good? Data processing will help us get that.
If you see the future, the world will be fully connected. From autonomous cars to autonomous drones, they are getting smarter and helping humans. Majority of accidents that happen is because of human error. We want to rely on systems to help reduce that, improve our lives and safety. You will never ever see a geospatial network, but you are experiencing and using it everyday. Even your smartphone is using geospatial information.