HD Video Comes To Entry-Level Drones

Improved Wi-Fi communication make a huge difference in reducing cost without sacrificing reliability.

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The consumer drone market has expanded greatly over the last few years, with almost 3 million units shipped during 2017. This upward trend is likely to continue. Analyst firm Statista forecasts that the commercial drone business will be worth $6.4 billion annually by 2020, while Global Market Insights has predicted that the worldwide drone market will grow to $17 billion (with the consumer category accounting for $9 billion of that). As new products are continually being introduced into what is already an acutely overcrowded marketplace, a differentiated offering is therefore critical to a successful product.

One of the newest and most exciting entrants into this crowded drone market, Tello, features functionality that sets it apart from rival offerings. Tello is manufactured by Shenzhen-based start-up Ryze Tech, a subsidiary of well-known brand DJI, which is the world’s largest producer of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). With a 13 minute runtime, plus a flight distance of up to 100 meters, this is an extremely maneuverable and compact quadcopter drone. It weighs just 80 grams and can fit into the palm of a typical teenager’s hand (with dimensions of 98 x 92.5 x 41 millimeters). The two main goals of the Tello are fun and education. To that end, a smartphone App-based control provides a fun user interface for everyone, including young people, to play with. The educational goal is met through an easy to program visual layout that allows users to write their own code using the comprehensive software development kit (SDK) included in the package. What really distinguishes Tello from other drones, however, is the breadth of its imaging capabilities – and this is where engaging with Marvell has proven pivotal.

Tello’s original drone design requirement called for live-streaming 720p MP4 format video, using its 5 Megapixel image sensor, back to the user’s smartphone or tablet even while traveling at its maximum speed of 8 meters/second. This called for interoperability testing with a broad array of smartphone and tablet models. Due to its small size, conserving battery life would be a key requirement, which meant ultra-low power consumption by Wi-Fi. Underlying all of this was the singular requirement for a strong wireless connection to be maintained at all times. Finally, as is always the case, Wi-Fi would need to fit in the low bill of materials for the product.

Ryze chose Marvell’s 1×1 802.11n single-band Wi-Fi system-on-chip (SoC) to meet the Wi-Fi requirements for the Tello drone project. This chip, already widely adopted in the market, is a a highly integrated, single-band (2.4GHz) IC that delivers IEEE 802.11b/g/n operation in a single spatial stream (1 SS) configuration. It incorporates a power amplifier (PA), a low noise amplifier (LNA), and a transmit/receive switch. Quality of Service (QoS) is guaranteed through the 802.11e standard implementation. The Wi-Fi SoC’s compliance with the 802.11i security protocol, plus built-in wired equivalent privacy (WEP) algorithms, enable 128-bit encryption of transmitted data, thereby protecting the data from being intercepted by third parties. All of these hardware features are supported by Marvell’s Wi-Fi software, which includes a small footprint and full featured Wi-Fi firmware tied in with the hardware level features. Specific features such as infrastructure mode operation were developed to enable the functionality desired by Ryze for the Tello.

The bottom line is this provides a level of sophistication that previously would only have been seen in expensive, professional-grade equipment. In order to bring this professional quality experience to an entry-level drone model means that significant power, performance and cost barriers were overcome. As we enter the 802.11ax era of Wi-Fi industry transition, expect to see more envelope-pushing, technological advances such as uplink OFDMA.

 



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