Attention: Bringing Computing (to) Drones (at the) Edge

By Mr. Edge, 12/11/18

*Note: This blog is about consumer drones and has no agenda towards drones used in any military use.

Drones – most of us are familiar with these devices. From tiny drones that have a lightweight controller or smartphone app to the expensive drones that require more skill to fly – they are becoming more relevant. I am not saying drones will be the norm in five years and fill out skies at low altitude, but if prices drop and the technology continues to improve, we could see them being used for extremely useful scenarios.

Lightweight consumer facing drones will most likely have their own niche. These drones are fun for consumers to play with and provide a cool experience for backyard activities or indoor flying (be careful flying indoors, trust me). The more expensive drones – and this may be the technology nerd in me – are… cool.

High-tech drones have extremely cool use cases. Photography is leading the pack among consumers. The features alone make using them extremely easy when taking photos. For instance, some drones have the ability to set a specific course beforehand and others can lock onto an object to maintain the same shot of a moving object.

There is also a Drone Racing League, which is one of the coolest use cases in my opinion. Pilots put on a headset to give them a drone eye view during the race. Pilots than compete through a course of tight turns, several levels to weave through and rings to fly through. If you have not checked it out, it will peak your interest.

Yet, as cool as drone tech may be, as with most innovative technologies there is a catch. Drones come with operational issues that are still evolving. For instance, battery power is often too short and can leave the pilots limited in range and nervous the drone may die at a dangerous height or in an obstacle that cannot be retrieved. With the risk of a drone dropping at an unsafe height, that leads to another issue – drones can break very easily. Image result for drone failsThe fragileness of a drone combined with the high price tag can make them a risky purchase. Outside of the physical problems, drones are not “smart” devices. To some, drones are a flying RC car with a camera attached, but often they include futuristic cloud-based or SD card-based technology. Yet, why isn’t the technology inside the drone as futuristic?

For example, why can we not shoot live video from a drone to a screen on the ground? This development could be life changing – think using a drone with a fire hose to put out a fire in a tall building.

So why hasn’t this happened yet? Latency and control are the main culprits. In this scenario, a live video shot from a drone would be out of sync with the video the pilot is watching. The video has a large degree of latency to the video. The video that the drone is sending will be different by the time the pilot reacts to the video. This latency can impact the control of the drone and control of the scenario.

Yet, with edge computing we might be able to make this happen. If we keep the video and control delivery at the edge, we can create a synchronization between the video and drone control that the human eye could not sense!

Image result for drones deliveryAnother use case that has been widely talked about is what Amazon has proposed – drones delivering packages. While it might be dangerous and various governments may take issue with the widespread commercial use of drones, it would be great! What’s the problem? Well… a lot of things, but having drones equipped with artificial intelligence to determine in real-time how to address an unplanned scenario could be the most beneficial.

Amazon could also handle this situation by positioning pilots in each city where drones are flown with live video being shot from the drone to the pilot. n this situation, we again run into a desynchronization of the video feed and the how the pilot flies the drone but that can also be addressed by processing at the edge If we keep the processing at the edge, we could provide a safe drone delivery with synchronization of video and pilot control!

The commercialized use of drones may still be a far-off, but innovation will occur, things will get better and if there is a use that society can agree upon, increased drone use will occur in today’s society. Just think about all those other technological innovations that “had no use” early on – cars, cell phones and laptops. Innovation always finds a way.


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