Qualcomm develops the Snapdragon 800/810/820 series processors used on high-end Android and Windows Phone devices. These little chips pack a multi-core system that allows for excellent graphics, GPS, wireless radio, and all the other amazing things that the modern smartphone can do.

However, Qualcomm has recently branched out from smartphone technology. The company has now created a processor that it hopes will become the default for the next generation of drones.

Qualcomm Snapdragon Flight Drones

Introducing Snapdragon Flight

Snapdragon Flight is a processor for drones built around the original Snapdragon 801 SoC (system on a chip) that is used in many Android phones such as the popular Samsung Galaxy. The processor chip has built-in technology to handle Bluetooth connectivity, WiFi, flight control systems, GPS navigation through satellite, video processing, and fast recharging.

All these features are packed onto a 2.26 GHz chip that is about the side of a credit card. Qualcomm said, “The integrated design is engineered to reduce the size, weight, and power consumption leading to longer flight times and additional safety.”

The drone industry still has to overcome a lot of setbacks based on safety concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Currently, drones cannot legally operate unless they are within eyesight of the pilot to minimize safety risks. There are only a few companies that have achieved exceptions, such as Amazon. Qualcomm hopes that it can show the FAA that drones can be used safely.

The First Snapdragon Flight Drone

The first drone that gets to try out the Snapdragon Flight chip is a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) made by Yuneec, a Chinese-based drone manufacturer. It is slated for launch sometime in 2016. Qualcomm anticipates that a steady stream of new UAV drones will enter the market after that. The company’s goal is to make Snapdragon Flight the go-to processor for future drones.

Qualcomm has successfully carved a niche in the smartphone market, so it has the experience and technology to also do well in the drone field. There’s no arguing that the Samsung Galaxy S 5 is one of the top smartphones on the market. Since Snapdragon Flight is based on the processor in this nifty phone, people are getting excited about the possibilities. With growing competition in the smartphone space, it only makes sense for Qualcomm to branch out and get a head start in the drone industry.

Future Drones Using Snapdragon Flight

Raj Talluri, Senior VP of product management at Qualcomm, told Wired,
“We first concepted Snapdragon Flight more than a year ago. It grew out of conversations and requests we were having with customers, as well as a need we were seeing in the market.”

He did not state the names of companies other than Yuneec who are currently interested in the Snapdragon Flight processor chip, but he did mention that Qualcomm is in talks with several OEMs in the drone industry. He went on to say,
“Drone or robotic developers and OEMs using Snapdragon Flight can create more innovative designs with advanced features in faster time-to-market and with reduced development costs."

Drones with Camera for Kids

Drone Developers Opt to Use Snapdragon Flight

In theory, there is no reason for drone developers to spend all the time and money required to create a processor chip on their own. Qualcomm has already created something far above any current developer standards. There is some competition in the space, but Qualcomm is a clear leader. There's no denying the success the company has had in the smartphone industry, and the Snapdragon Flight chip is based on that success.

The new Snapdragon Flight chip will help keep drone costs down and will also speed up the time when full-featured drones become readily available. Right now, the few powerful drones are very expensive, and the rest are little more than toys. Qualcomm wants to use their technology to bring the cost of high-quality drones down in order to fill that gap.

The Consumer Electronics Association estimates an increase to $1 billion in drone sales by 2018, showing how quickly the drone industry is growing, and Qualcomm entered the processor race with Snapdragon Flight at the right time.