This hardware development platform can fly -- literally

DJI's Manifold is a mini-PC designed to fly on top of the company's Matrice 100 drone platform

When companies say their computers have a GPU so apps can "really fly," they usually just mean they'll run quickly. With the Manifold, an 11 centimeter-square package containing an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor and a host of ports, DJI wants you to take it literally.

DJI is known for its drones, not its desktops, so it's no surprise that it intends the Manifold for higher things. The US$499 computer weighs about 200 grams, and is designed to clip on top of the company's Matrice 100, a $3,299 quad-coptor with a 1-kilogram payload.

While DJI sells ready-to-use drones such as the Phantom 3, with its "Developer" products such as the Manifold and Matrice 100 it is looking to promote the creation of sophisticated in-flight image-processing apps. Compared to streaming HD imagery over Wi-fi for processing by a computer on the ground, in-flight processing will allow for much lower latency -- broadly, the delay between input and output -- and greater autonomy if contact is lost with the ground. 

Some aspects of the Manifold recall mini PCs such as Intel's NUC (Next Unit of Computing): 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, an SD-card slot and connectors for four USB ports, HDMI out, Ethernet and audio.

However, in place of the NUC's Arm processor, the Manifold has a 2.2GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 quad-core Arm chip with 192 GPU cores. It also has dedicated ports for camera in and out, two direct connectors to UARTS (universal asynchronous receiver-transmitters) and a chunky input-output expansion header giving access to SPI (serial peripheral interface) and I2C (inter-integrated circuit) control lines that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to wire up sensors to a microcontroller-based device like the Arduino. 

The Manifold runs Ubuntu 14.04, a version of the Linux OS with long-term support. Canonical typically expects Ubuntu users to upgrade to a new version after nine months or so, but LTS versions receive maintenance and security updates for five years. It includes support for Nvidia's CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture), an API for running massively parallel code on GPUs, and also for ROS (Robot Operating System), a framework for writing robot software now maintained by the Open Source Robotics Foundation.

There are already drone control apps available for download to smartphones through the Apple iTunes Store and Google Play, but if this kind of autonomous airborne computing platform really takes off, perhaps we'll also see the introduction of a SkyMall-like store for inflight apps, able to perform tasks for us without intervention from the ground.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags drones

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?