Intel's new hardware kits make it easier to build robots and drones

Intel's Robotic Development Kit and Aero Kit will ship with the RealSense 3D camera

Intel's keynotes can be fun, with robots parading on stage and drones zigzagging around the room. Now Intel's making new hardware to help enthusiasts join the fun by building robots and drones at home.

The Robotic Development Kit and Aero Kit provide the necessary hardware and software tools to build robots and drones, respectively. The kits were announced at the ongoing Intel Developer Forum in Shenzhen, China.

A major element of the developer boards is the RealSense 3D camera, which will ship with the kits and help the robots and drones navigate and avoid obstacles. The depth-sensing camera can recognize items and determine the size, shape and contours of objects. For robots, the camera provides computer vision, which is analogous to eyes in humans.

The Robotic Development Kit will be priced at US$249 and will ship later this quarter. It has a credit-card-sized board from Aaeon, which is equipped with an Intel Atom x5 Z8350 CPU, an internal Intel HD 400 graphics processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and 32GB of storage. Other features include an HDMI slot, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, a camera interface and an eDP (embedded DisplayPort) slot to connect a display. It also has a 40-pin GPIO (general purpose input-output) slot to hook up add-on boards that may have sensors or other components.

The kit will ship with Ubuntu Linux but will also support Windows 10 and other versions of Windows.

The Aero Platform is a "ready-to-fly developer platform," an Intel spokesman said in an e-mail. It has an Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor, DDR3L RAM and flash storage, and it will run a version of embedded Linux. Full details and price aren't yet available, but it will ship in the second half of this year.

The hardware is part of Intel's effort to diversify outside PCs into new areas. It's also an effort to provide do-it-yourselfers with the resources to develop a wide range of gadgets, appliances, and smart home and industrial equipment.

Robotics has become an important educational tool, and other companies are also paying attention. Amazon paid US$775 million for industrial automation company Kiva Systems, and it wants to deliver products using drones. Google has also invested in robotics companies.

Nvidia's Jetson TX1 development board is already becoming popular for building drones and robots. The most software-friendly robotics and drone development board is Qualcomm's DragonBoard 410c, which supports Windows 10 IoT Core, embedded Linux and ROS (Robotics Operating System), the most widely used robotics OS.

Intel sells development board for as little as US$15 to build wearables, electronics and IoT devices. Those developer boards are mainly based on the company's Quark processors.

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