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Intel acquires German drone maker Ascending Technologies

Intel adds to previous strategic investments in drone technology to bolster its competitive position in the drone chip market

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Chips & processors

Intel is to acquire a German drone company, increasing its investments in drones, which the company recognises as “an important computing platform of the future”.

Its acquisition of Ascending Technologies, a maker of professional/civil and research-oriented drone lines, follows investments in three other drone companies.

In August 2015, Intel invested $60m in Chinese drone maker Yuneec International, which the US company saw as a strategic move to entrench its chip technology in the fledgling unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market.

Intel has also made smaller investments in drone companies Airware and PrecisionHawk, which analysts said was part of Intel’s strategy to gain ground on ARM-based CPUs in the UAV market.

Intel competitor Qualcomm has invested in US drone maker 3D Robotics, according to the Seeking Alpha financial website.

Analysts say Intel’s acquisition of Ascending Technologies further bolsters its position against Qualcomm and other competitors, such as Nvidia and early market leader Ambarella, in the drone processor market.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight and Nvidia’s Jetson TX1 platforms both promise a measure of autonomous navigation support for drones, according to Seeking Alpha.

Venture capitalists and companies are investing in drone technology on the expectation that UAVs will prove beneficial for consumers and industrial customers.

Amazon and Google are both testing drones developed to deliver goods to customers, and Sony has launched a drones-as-a-service business unit that uses its image sensor technology. Meanwhile, Facebook is testing a UK-developed drone to enable internet connectivity in remote, unconnected areas.

According to Intel, Ascending Technologies owns best-in-class drone auto-pilot software and algorithms.

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“We have already partnered to combine Ascending Technologies’ sense-and-avoid algorithms with Intel RealSense technology’s real-time depth-sensing capability,” said Josh Walden, senior vice-president and general manager of Intel’s New Technology Group.

“Together, these technologies can, among other things, improve drone safety – helping them to avoid obstacles and collisions.

“With Ascending Technologies, Intel gains expertise and technology to accelerate the deployment of Intel RealSense technology into the fast-growing drone market segment,” he wrote in a blog post.

Walden said drones are quickly emerging as an important computing platform of the future, with practical applications including disaster response, infrastructure inspection and delivery of goods.

He said drones offer an “incredible opportunity for innovation” across many industries, and added: “As a result, Intel is positioning itself at the forefront of this opportunity to increasingly integrate the computing, communications, sensor and cloud technology required to make drones smarter and more connected.”

Walden said Intel had signed a definitive agreement, subject to customary closing conditions, to acquire Ascending Technologies.

“We are not disclosing financial terms,” the company said in a statement, noting that Ascending Technologies is a small company with about 75 employees, who are all receiving offers to join Intel. “We are also not discussing product roadmap plans at this time,” the statement said.

Walden said Intel plans for the Ascending Technologies team to continue supporting their current customers while also collaborating with Intel’s perceptual computing team to develop UAV technology to help drones fly with more awareness of their environments.

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