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Intel "Aero" drone board runs Yocto on Cherry Trail

Aug 17, 2016 — by Eric Brown 3,515 views

Intel has launched a Linux-on-Atom powered “Aero Compute Board” and quadcopter, promising improved obstacle navigation based on Intel RealSense.

Even more than last year’s Intel Developer Forum, this week’s IDF is focusing relentlessly on Intel RealSense. The 3D depth sensing camera technology is everywhere at IDF, including the new Windows-focused Project Alloy VR helmet and several Linux-infused drone, robotics, and camera kits. In fact, even the new Kaby Lake and Apollo Lake processors expected to be announced today include built-in support for RealSense. Here, we take a look at the Intel Aero Platform drone products: the Atom-based Intel Aero Compute Board and an Aero Ready To Fly quadcopter based on it.

Aero Ready To Fly quadcopter with controller (left) and being willed to life at IDF by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, who was recently appointed by the FAA to chair the Drone Advisory Council
(click images to enlarge)

The other RealSense based robot and camera kits showcased at IDF include a possibly-updated model of the Atom and Up board based Intel RealSense Robotics Development Kit and a tiny, Atom-based Euclid Developer Kit. There are also RealSense ZR300 and Camera 400 camera development kits.

The Intel Aero Platform for UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) appears to have emerged from Intel’s acquisition of Linux oriented drone-maker Ascending Technologies (AscTec) earlier this year. Intel also announced that Airbus was using a modified version of AscTec’s RealSense-enabled Falcon 8 drone to inspect its aircraft.


At IDF in San Francisco, Intel showcased the now-shipping, $1,900 Typhoon H prosumer drones from Yuneec. Announced at CES in January, the Android-controlled drone includes an Intel RealSense camera for improved collision avoidance.

Aero Ready To Fly
(click image to enlarge)

Intel has fully documented the Aero Compute Board, but had fewer details on the Aero Ready To Fly quadcopter based on it, which ships at the end of the year. The Aero Ready To Fly drone includes a PX4-based controller and is said to be “a fully-assembled quadcopter with compute board and integrated depth and vision capabilities using Intel RealSense Technology.”

The quadcopter uses the same Yocto Project Linux OS with AirMap support provided by the board. Like the Yuneec H, the Aero Ready To Fly uses the RealSense camera for improved depth sensing and obstacle navigation.

Intel Aero Compute Board

The 88 × 63 × 20mm, 30-gram Intel Aero Compute Board (also referred to as the Compute Board for Intel Aero) is available for pre-order starting at $399, but the full kit costs over $620. This includes a $149 Intel Aero Vision Accessory Kit with an Intel RealSense R200 depth-sensing camera plus standard 8-megapixel and VGA cameras with cables. The full kit also includes the $149 Aero Enclosure Kit, which is designed to hold the board and the three Vision Accessory Kit cameras.

Aero Compute Board
(click images to enlarge)

Like the newly announced Intel Joule computer-on-module follow-on to the Intel Edison, the Aero Compute Board runs Linux on a 14nm-fabricated Intel Atom system-on-chip. Yet while the Joule runs the Yocto Project-based Ostro Linux distribution on new quad-core, 1.5GHz Atom T5500 or 1.7GHz AtomT5700 SoCs, which appear to be the first Apollo Lake Atom models, the Aero Compute Board runs a custom Yocto build on the “Cherry Trail” Atom x7-Z8700.

The 1.6GHz (2.4GHz Turbo) Atom x7-Z8700 runs on Intel’s Project Tango based Intel RealSense Smartphone Developer Kit, and is the big brother to the similarly quad-core x5-Z8350 found on the Intel RealSense Robotics Development Kit. Intel is rumored to be backing away from the smartphone market in general and Cherry Trail in particular, but the chips seem to be well-suited for use with RealSense in the embedded world, as well.

Aero Compute Board Vision Accessory Kit (left) and Aero Enclosure Kit
(click images to enlarge)

Designed for developers, researchers, and UAV enthusiasts, the Aero Compute Board supports Dronecode PX4 software, as well as the AirMap SDK for airspace services. The Yocto distribution includes sample applications and APIs for flight and vision interfaces.

Intel has added an a Max 10 FPGA from its Altera subsidiary for GPIO duty. You get 4GB RAM and 32GB eMMC, plus microSD and M.2 expansion.

The Intel Aero Compute Board is further equipped with micro-HDMI, MIPI-CSI-2, and USB 3.0 OTG interfaces, although few if any of these connections appear to use traditional, real-world ports. A second USB 3.0 port is dedicated to hooking up the RealSense camera. You also get dual-band WiFi-ac and an 80-pin expansion connector with GPIO and other interfaces.

Specifications listed for the Intel Aero Compute Board include:

  • Processor — Intel Atom x7-Z8700 (4x 14nm Cherry Trail cores @ 1.6GHz/2.4GHz burst); Altera Max 10 FPGA
  • Memory/storage:
    • 4GB LPDDR3-1600 RAM
    • 16GB or 32GB eMMC
    • MicroSD slot
    • M.2 slot (1-lane PCIe) for SSD
  • Display — Micro-HDMI port
  • Wireless — dual-band 2×2 MIMO 802.11ac (Intel Wireless-AC 826-)
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 3.0 OTG port
    • USB 3.0-based connector for optional RealSense R200 cam
    • MIPI-CSI-2 (4x lanes plus 1x lane connector) with optional 8-megapixel (Omnivision OV8858) and VGA (Omnivision OV7251) cams
    • 80-pin flexible I/O connector with expansion cable and breakout adapter:
      • 2x I2C
      • UART
      • SPI
      • CAN
      • 5x analog inputs
      • 25x programmable GPIOs
  • Other features – heatsink; optional Aero Enclosure Kit
  • Weight — 30 g (less than 60 g with heatsink)
  • Dimensions — 88 × 63 × 20mm with heatsink
  • Operating system — Yocto Project 2.1 (Krogoth) with Linux Kernel 4.4.3

Further information

The Intel Aero Compute Board is available for pre-order in the U.S. and Canada starting at $399. The ship dates would appear to be sooner than those for the Intel Aero Ready To Fly quadcopter, which will be available later in the fourth quarter at an unstated price. More information may be found at Intel’s aerial technology page.

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