At the end of 2017, the US Department of Transportation launched the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (IPP). The programme was created to open US airspace to commercial drone trials that would otherwise be restricted by federal aviation regulations.
In May, 10 trials were announced across the country, bringing together state and local governments with educational institutions, businesses, and unmanned aircraft operators.
Intel is a project partner in four of the ten test sites. The IPP is expected to last a number of years and eventually provide the foundations for future regulations.
In fact, Intel has been quietly growing into one of the drone industry’s most influential players.
Acquisitions and investments involving the likes of Volocopter, Yuneec, and Movidius have given the technology giant a foothold in unmanned aerial transport, drone hardware, and computer vision, respectively. Not to mention the company’s viral aerial light shows.
Intel is also keen to have a say in the development of the technology that could one day tie all of these technologies together: an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) solution.
The chip maker took part in trials last year alongside NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop and test a universal drone communication and navigation system, in line with the way conventional aircraft are tracked.
Such a system could pave the way for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations and night flights – both of which were recently explored by Intel in Oklahoma, the company confirmed this week.
In a statement, Intel claims to have flown night missions using the company’s Falcon 8 platform. The drone carried a thermal sensor to trial an application that could, the company says, be used to look for lost cattle and learn more about animal behaviour.
More significant, however, was the first public demonstration of Open Drone ID, the remote identification and tracking solution for unmanned aircraft that Intel has been developing with a number of partners.
Open Drone ID is a wireless drone identification solution that allows a team on the ground to identify a drone and its key data points, as long as it is within range of a receiver. Intel suggests that the receiver could be something as ubiquitous as a smartphone.
The current iteration of the system relies on Bluetooth 4.2 broadcast packets and Bluetooth 5 advertising extensions. Open Drone ID can read a drone’s unique ID, location, direction, altitude, speed, make/model, and base location, among other attributes.
In that way, the system is similar in kind to Aeroscope, the ID and tracking solution developed by drone manufacturer DJI, which detects the communication signal between drone and controller before pinging back its telemetry and user registration data to a team on the ground.
Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager of Intel’s drone division, is well aware that developing infrastructure for drones to become better integrated with national airspace is key to unlocking new commercial applications.
“I’m honoured that Intel’s Drone Group is participating in such critical programmes to pave the way for new and expanded commercial UAS operations,” he said.
“By working with the US government, as well as various other industry partners, we can demonstrate the magnitude of a drone’s potential when integrated into our nation’s airspace in a responsible way.”
At a time of growing trade tension between the US and China, which has forged a lead in unmanned aerial hardware via DJI, Intel sees clear potential to assert itself in the market as strongly as possible – a move that is likely to gain strong government support.
Light-touch regulation and a supportive government are essential to help the nascent drone industry take off in fields such as engineering, maintenance, agriculture, supply chain management, logistics, transport, and many others, which are among the many wider commercial applications beyond amateur enthusiasts, drone racers, and photographers.
The conservative aerospace sector also needs to be brought onside, so having one of the world’s leading technology suppliers forging partnerships to secure unmanned aerial vehicles and integrate them with civilian airspace can only be a good thing.