Drone maker DJI and Canonical want to help developers’ applications take flight. Literally. The companies announced today that they are releasing a computer embedded on a drone platform. The goal is to allow developers to transform drones into more intelligent, autonomous machines capable of performing complex computing tasks on their own, according to DJI.
The DJI Manifold, as the new system is called, runs on Canonical’s Ubuntu operating system and supports CUDA, OpenCV and ROS. The platform has been optimized for aerial image processing and parallel computing, sporting a quad-core ARM Cortex A-15 Processor and Nvidia Kepler-based GPU.
Ubuntu in the Sky, with DJI
“With the Manifold, we are entering a new era of smarter, faster and more powerful aerial platforms. Manifold opens up for aerial and ground technology to intelligently work together to solve complex problems,” said Michael Perry, DJI’s director of strategic partnerships, in a statement. “We are excited to see what applications our developer community will come up with for this new platform.”
China-based DJI specializes in image applications for autonomous vehicles. Canonical said Ubuntu 14.04, the Long-Term Support version, will be available on the Manifold. The release will come with support for both multi-touch devices and HiDPI screens.
The Manifold uses and is specifically designed for DJI’s Onboard SDK (software development kit), which will make it easier for developers already familiar with DJI SDK-based software to create more "powerful professional" apps. The SDK offers a user-friendly system that is still powerful enough to develop professional applications for aerial technology, according to DJI. The two companies are also highlighting the platform’s flexibility and extensibility.
We reached out to Dan Kara, practice director, robotics at ABI Research to get his thoughts on the companies' announcement. "This yet another example of drone companies along with semiconductor and mobile telecommunications firms (Nvidia, Qualcomm, Intel etc.), releasing products that support advanced capabilities such as sense-and-avoid and more in drones," he said. "It is clear that DJI is focusing on the commercial space."
AI in the Air
The inclusion of a PC graphics card and support for DirectX and OpenGL will allow applications developed for the Manifold platform to process high-resolution images in real time, according to DJI. “It can be deployed for use in artificial intelligence applications such as computer vision and deep learning. This means your aerial platforms will not only be able to sense the surrounding environment, but also identify objects and respond in an instant,” DJI said on the Manifold’s product page.
DJI said the platform is also ideal for research and development. The Manifold can access flight data and perform intelligent control and data analysis. Because the platform will be able to collect as well as analyze data in the air, it should be well suited to developers working on projects that depend on time-sensitive information.
It is also compatible with third-party sensors, enabling developers to connect a wide variety of devices such as infrared cameras, atmospheric research devices and geographical surveying equipment, DJI noted.
The company is also touting its low power consumption figures, which max out at 15 watts, about a quarter of what a typical laptop consumes. The platform can also dynamically adjust the number of cores in use, enabling it to power down cores not needed for simpler calculations, allowing for greater energy savings.