Wanna build your own drone? Intel emits Linux-powered x86 brains for DIY flying gizmos

Plus other developer kits: Joule and Euclid

DIY drone brains ... The Linux-powered Aero single-board computer

IDF16 Intel has a bunch of new and updated hardware kits for engineers to toy with and use to build prototypes – from a DIY drone kit to a bunch of beefy Internet of Things packages.

The most interesting is the Aero drone-building kit, available now to order. You use this single-board computer as the control electronics in a quadcopter: it does everything from the decision-making logic and processing of incoming remote control signals to driving the IO lines to the drone's propellers.

It's basically a flying netbook: it has a quad-core 1.6GHz Atom x7-Z8700 processor that can ramp up its clock to 2.4GHz when needed. It has 2MB of cache, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of flash, built-in Wi-Fi, a microSD slot, and an M.2 connector for a PCIe SSD.

It also has an on-board Altera Max 10 FPGA that drives an 80-pin IO connector, which carries: two I2C interfaces, a UART serial interface, SPI, CAN connectivity, five analog inputs, and 25 programmable GPIOs. There's also a USB3 OTG connector, and a micro HDMI port driven by the processor's builtin HD Graphics chipset.

The FPGA is user-programmable; you can configure it as you wish to send signals to the motor controllers on each propeller, and to send and receive signals from onboard sensors and peripherals. The board also sports a MIPI CSI-2 camera interface and a USB3 connector to an Intel RealSense motion-detector cam, if fitted.

Drone kit ... A complete Aero 'copter – the board is in the white box in the middle

The Aero runs Yocto GNU/Linux. The idea is, you come up with a project – like a smog-detecting drone or a delivery-dropping quadcopter – and then take an Aero board, wire the necessary peripherals and sensors to it, and then attach it all to a drone skeleton. All you need is a frame with motors, propellers and motor controllers; the Altera FPGA on the board sends the necessary signals to the controllers and other gizmos.

The board is the size of a playing card: 88mm by 63mm by 20mm, including the heatsink. Yes, it needs a heatsink. When we chatted to Intel staff about the kit, we were told the battery life numbers hadn't been finalized yet – how long one of these can fly between charges depends on the size of the battery and the weight of the drone. The board weighs 60g with a heatsink. Its 64-bit x86 Atom processor has a typical power draw of 2W.

Right now, you can order one of these for just shy of 400 bucks, and a full kit including the drone frame will be available in the final quarter of 2016. That ready-to-fly build comes with libraries to access the RealSense camera and control the gizmo's flight, and an AirMap development kit so you don't knowingly fly into restricted airspace.

In other Intel development kit news

  • Intel has a new Internet of Things development kit called Joule [datasheet PDF] and it comes in two flavors: the 550x and the 570x. Both are pretty beefy by IoT standards. The 570x sports a 64-bit 1.7GHz quad-core Atom T5700 processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of flash, HD Graphics, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a camera interface, I2C and UART serial ports, and various GPIO pins. It runs Linux and supports RealSense motion-detecting cameras. The 550x is slightly less powerful, with a 1.5GHz Atom, and has 3GB of RAM and 8GB of flash. There are code samples here. The Joules will go on general sale through resellers in September.
  • The Euclid kit has a RealSense camera, an Atom processor and wireless connectivity. It's about the size of a candy bar, and is aimed at academics, hardware tinkerers and robot builders.
  • Finally, there's three new RealSense camera packages: a Robotic Development Kit, the high-precision ZR300 Development Kit, and the Camera 400 Series, which are optimized to capture as many points on a 3D object as possible per second. ®

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