November 07, 2014      

Intel Corp. is trying to find the next big thing in technology, and it’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Intel Capital, the chip maker’s global investment arm, announced at its Global Summit a total of $25 million of investments in 16 technology companies. This came after the company invested $28 million in several Chinese companies a few weeks prior. Intel Capital said it expects to reach $355 million in total investments this year across the technology industry.

The goal behind all these investments? To get Intel chips into everything from wearables and the Internet of Things to big data analytics and everything in between. Intel dominates the market for servers, 98 percent of which carry its semiconductors.

However, Intel acknowledges that it “missed the impact of how big tablets are going to be.” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, who took over in May 2013, has been tasked with finding new revenue streams. One industry Intel doesn’t want to miss on, among others, is drones, which the Teal Group estimates will be an $11 billion industry annually by 2024.

Intel Capital has joined a $10 million round of Series B funding for PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, N.C.-based data delivery company that uses a small drone and cloud-based software to gather data for use in civilian industries. Tammi Smorynski led the investment round for Intel Capital and will serve as an advisor to the PrecisionHawk board.

“Having their resources and know-how is more valuable to us than the money,” said Lia Reich, PrecisionHawk’s senior director of communications. “Intel classifies [PrecisionHawk] as a Big Data company, and that’s the main reason for the investment. The hardware is important, but the hardware is going to be commoditized. We know that, Intel knows that, everyone knows that. And that’s why Intel put financial backing behind us. What are you going to do with that data post-collection? That’s our sweet spot right now and our advantage over other UAV companies.”

PrecisionHawk is currently providing aerial data solutions to enterprise-level customers across a wide variety of industries, from agriculture, energy, forestry, and government to environmental protection. PrecisionHawk recently launched its cloud-based data management and analysis tool, Data Mapper, to automatically interpret data coming off the UAV.

“Intel Capital understands, as we do, that the UAV platform is not the product. Our product is information delivery,” said Christopher Dean, PrecisionHawk CEO. “The expertise that this group will bring in maneuvering the highly-competitive global market combined with our information-first model and data-driven approach will be invaluable as we continue to service an increasingly large, and growing, market sector.”

Intel develops chips for drones

Here’s where the synergy between PrecisionHawk and Intel comes into play. Intel recently partnered with 3D Robotics, a drone startup and RBR50 company, to develop Edison, a new microcomputer that supplies PC power in postage-stamp size.

“The combination of Edison’s incredible power and affordability will lead to truly revolutionary advancements for our company and for the Internet of Things in general,” wrote Roger Sollenberger on the 3D Robotics Blog. “In other words, drones won’t come in a handful of sizes and models with a handful of universal capabilities, as they do today.”

“Instead, drones will be customized and adapted, changed and invented and reinvented to meet an untold number of needs and solve an untold number of problems, most of which we aren’t even aware of today. That’s the long tail,” he said. “With additional computing power from Edison, 3DR will build drones that can do more things for more people in more industries, and eventually drones that can be infinitely tailored to meet the many unique needs of the real world that are out there now, waiting for their applications to come along.”

Since the deal with Intel was just signed, Reich was unsure if Edison will be incorporated into future PrecisionHawk drones. However, she said, “there are serious discussions about what technological areas we’ll be collaborating with Intel on.”

At its Developer Forum in September, Intel announced it’s also developing a family of chips designed for drones, robots, wearables and other electronics. Intel said the chips will able to capture environmental data, as well as audio and visual information. So expect Intel and PrecisionHawk to work together in this area in some capacity, whether it’s integrating Edison or a yet-to-be-developed chipset into PrecisionHawk UAVs.

Intel makes ‘significant’ investment in Cloudera

Intel also is well-equipped to work with PrecisionHawk on the data management and analysis side of things. Yes, PrecisionHawk already has its Data Mapper platform. In March 2014, Intel made a “significant” investment to acquire 18 percent of Cloudera, a startup that builds and supports tools to run on top of Apache Hadoop, the open-source software that allows data to be processed by clusters of commodity hardware for data warehousing and big data analytics.

Cloudera’s platform includes tools to help businesses store and analyze data in Hadoop clusters for improved security and availability. Intel engineers will work on Cloudera’s version, which will be enhanced with features from Intel’s own Hadoop platform.

At the time of the deal, analysts estimated Cloudera’s paying user base to be quite small, but Intel said it is focused on Cloudera’s potential. A.T. Kearney forecasts global spending on big data hardware, software, and services will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30% through 2018, reaching a total market size of $114 billion.

“Drones hold the promise of revolutionizing many industries, some new and some very old, like farming,” said Jerry Bautista, vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Business Initiatives. “We are pleased to be working with PrecisionHawk, whose unique approach of combining versatile remote-sensing devices with powerful data analytics fits well with Intel’s strengths in hardware and software for the Internet of Things.”

Showing even more affinity for drones, Intel awarded the $500,000 first-place prize of its “Make It Wearable” challenge to Nixie. The company’s drone-carried camera is intended for action shots and sports and activity photography and can be worn as a wristband. Nixie, of course, uses the Edison chip.