Movidius chip powers world’s first autonomous drone DJI Phantom 4

16 Mar 2016

Irish chipmaker Movidius has been revealed as the brains behind the world's first autonomous drone, the DJI Phantom 4

Fresh from winning a major multi-million dollar deal with Google, Irish internet of things chip maker Movidius has been revealed as the brains behind a breakthrough autonomous drone, the DJI Phantom 4.

The autonomous drone, which went on sale in Apple Stores across the US last week, features a new visual guidance feature that sticks to and follows a subject and can stay in a fixed position without the need for a GPS signal.

Described as an industry first, the addition of Movidius chip technology and algorithms enables spatial computing and 3D depth sensing.

Future Human

This gives the DJI Phantom 4 drone the ability to sense and avoid obstacles in real time – meaning more autonomous flight functions – and improved awareness of flight space while in the air. Other visual intelligence features include improved vision-based tracking modes and advanced mapping capabilities.

‘We believe we are entering the golden age of embedded computer vision, and our technology has placed Movidius at the forefront of this trend’

The Phantom 4 drone is understood to be the only visually intelligent drone in the market with an ability to see the world through six different sensors, and it can sense obstacles.

It includes such features as Tap Fly – which enables pilots to tap a spot on their display causing the drone will fly to that spot on its own – and Active Track, which allows the pilot to track objects using advanced image recognition algorithms.

China-based DJI reported over $800m in sales in 2015 and is expected to become the world’s first $1bn drone company.

The global drone market was worth $1.1bn in 2014 and is expected to reach $6bn by 2020.

Movidius helps DJI push the boundaries of drone technology

DJI said the performance-to-power ratio advantage of the Myriad 2 VPU MA2100 matched DJI’s algorithm closer than any other traditional processor solutions.

“DJI continuously works to make complex technology accessible for anyone with a creative vision. As a result, we constantly seek ways to expand our technological capabilities to push the industry beyond what is thought possible,” said Paul Pan, Senior Product Manager at DJI.

“Movidius’ vision processor platform, Myriad 2, met the rigorous requirements we set for our flagship product, and we look forward to continued collaboration with Movidius as we push the boundaries in the drone market.”

The Pentium chip of the internet of things era

Movidius Founders 2 - David Moloney & Sean Mitchell

Movidius founders David Maloney and Sean Mitchell

In recent weeks, it emerged that Movidius’s internet of things chips will be the intelligence within a powerful new VR headset being created by Google that won’t need to be tethered to smartphones or PCs.

Earlier in the year, Google signed a deal with Movidius that will see the Irish company’s MA2450 chip feature in forthcoming personal devices, like smartphones, that will be contextually aware.

The deal will see Google use Movidius processors alongside the entire Movidius software environment to run machine intelligence locally on devices.

Movidius, which was founded 10 years ago by David Maloney and Sean Mitchell, recently raised €38m in a move that will enable it to generate 100 new jobs in Dublin.

The company now has offices in Silicon Valley, Ireland, Romania and China.

“DJI has set the direction for the future of the drone market and we are excited to incorporate Movidius’ low-power artificial vision intelligence technology into DJI drones moving forward,” said Sean Mitchell, COO of Movidius.

“Moving the technology from a demonstration to a highly-reliable production-worthy stage was a tremendous effort for both DJI and Movidius. The DJI Phantom 4 launch represents a milestone for the future of visually-aware devices. We believe we are entering the golden age of embedded computer vision, and our technology has placed Movidius at the forefront of this trend.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years