Intel sees positive signs in Drone Integration Pilot Program

By Patrick C. Miller | December 06, 2017

Intel Corp. doesn’t know yet exactly how its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technologies will fit into the U.S. Drone Integration Pilot Program, but the company views the new program as an important opportunity and a potentially positive step for the UAS industry.

Anil Nanduri, vice president of Intel’s New Technology Group and UAS general manager, spoke to UAS Magazine about the company’s major areas of drone technology and how the new federal pilot program could serve to advance the UAS industry in ways that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test sites could not.

“To make these technologies more mature, we need more testing done in real environments,” Nanduri explained. “The test sites, while they’re good, don’t constitute a real-world environment. Time will tell us where the pilot program tests will be conducted. But if it’s a lot more of a real-world test environment, I think it will be a big boost to the stakeholders.”

The deadline for applicants to submit notices of intent for the UAS pilot program expired on Nov. 28. The next deadline is Dec. 13 when the lead project applicants will complete additional submissions and interested parties can request inclusion in the projects.

The areas in which Nanduri said Intel is interested are: the ongoing UAS traffic management trials with the FAA and NASA; the Aero drone software development platform for a quadcopter equipped with an Intel compute board and RealSense depth-sensing capabilities; the Falcon 8+ multirotor drone and Sirius Pro System fixed-wing drone for commercial applications; and the Shooting Star drone fleet for nighttime entertainment which enables one computer to control hundreds of drones.

The Falcon’s primary use is for infrastructure inspections and precision agriculture while the Sirius is primarily intended for mapping and surveying large areas, Nanduri said. Intel is also looking at using its Shooting Star system for drone swarm applications such as search and rescue, as well as inspections of large infrastructure, he added.

Nanduri wouldn’t speculate on whether the UAS pilot program will be more successful than the FAA’s test sites. However, he is optimistic that encouraging industry and government collaborations through projects that aren’t tied to certain locations will be useful to the UAS industry.

“When we do light shows, we’ve benefited immensely from having an FAA waiver to test in various locations,” he said. “The conditions—the environment—are different. It’s very useful to have that flexibility for testing in the real world, especially if you look at different use cases like delivery. We have to work to the end challenge of flying through an urban canyon.

“You need to have a test bed,” Nanduri continued. “I think the test sites, while they’re interesting, don’t get as close to testing it in the real world. We look at it (the UAS pilot program) as a step forward. As the details pan out and where the final selections are made, it will probably give us a real estimate of how valuable they become.”

From Intel’s perspective, drones represent a means to conduct inspections and other applications more safely, faster and more economically. Nanduri believes that regulation is just one part of the equation when it comes to commercializing UAS technology.

“Industries that have the benefit of using these technologies have to have a business transformation on a scale level,” he explained. “It’s not just about them doing one or two POCs (proof of concept). It’s about how to make it a mainstream process in their inspection workflow. To do that, more automation is likely required and more analysis of the data is needed.”

Nanduri noted that this is especially the case for drone inspections where a single drone could collect 50 to 100 gigabytes of data.

“Managing these large data sets starts to become one of the things that has to be worked out,” he said. “A lot of software automation will come in, including artificial intelligence or algorithms that are automated to be able to minimize the amount of human effort to distill all that information and get to some actionable inference from that data set.”

For now, Intel is waiting for more details as the UAS pilot program begins to emerge.

“From an industry perspective, the opportunity to test in a real-world environment—if it is meaningful—you will see a lot of collaboration, but it has to benefit everyone,” Nanduri said. “There definitely has to be some skin in the game that manifests itself—whether it’s location-based or whether it’s contributing systems and technology and people. We’ll have to wait and see as the proposals are finalized.”