Intel agreed on Monday to acquire the Munich-based drone manufacturer Ascending Technologies. Financial details were not disclosed.
The company builds small unmanned aerial vehicles and equips them with its own "sense-and-avoid" algorithms, which allow the drones to steer clear of obstacles and stay on course even in strong winds. They are touted for their high navigation accuracy.
Many of them are used today by repair crews monitoring overground pipe and electricity lines.
Intel’s move is seen as confirmation that Germany’s IT scene is competitive internationally. Last year, Apple bought Metaio, an augmented reality company, possibly to develop new functions for the iPhone.
With Ascending Technologies, Intel gains expertise and technology to accelerate the deployment of Intel RealSense technology into the fast growing drone market segment. Josh Walden, Intel Drone Manager
For some time, Intel, the world's largest maker of microprocessors for PCs and servers, has been making investments and acquisitions in new technology areas, such as drones, amid a downturn in the computer hardware market.
With Ascending Technologies, Intel gains "expertise and technology to accelerate the deployment of Intel RealSense technology into the fast growing drone market segment," said Josh Walden, who heads the U.S. company's drone activities.
Asc-Tec says its drones make use of control technology and redundant systems that operate in parallel to make them more reliable against the danger of technical failure.
At last year’s CES electronic trade fair, Asc-Tec drew attention at an Intel event when its drone autonomously navigated an obstacle course using an Intel chip.
The companies first started to collaborate when Intel approached Asc-Tec to find out how far it could use its trademarked RealSense camera, an appliance that gives depth to its images. A few days later, Asc-Tec created a video, recalled Jan Stumpf, a co-founder of the German firm.
Intel invested in the company but, as Asc-Tec’s Mr. Stumpf said, it wasn’t only about the money. “We’ve had investors lining up at the door for years," he told Handelsblatt in November. He noted that the collaboration was something special when it came to the technology.
“The approach, the DNA, the company’s dynamic fits well with us," Mr. Stumpf said. Given his enthusiasm it is unsurprising that the four founders agreed to the takeover.
The move enables Intel, one of the world's biggest computer chip makers, to diversify away from PCs and into the growing market for civilian drones.
According to a report in 2015, the market for commercial and civilian drones is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent between 2015 and 2020.
Drones are likely to be used in an increasingly broad range of sectors. They are already being deployed in disaster response, for checking infrastructure and delivering products. Amazon, Google and Facebook are also investing in the vehicles.
Following the Intel move, Ascending Technologies said it was set to continue to develop, build and sell drones. It will also work together with Intel’s departments, including the Perceptual Computing Team, to make drones more aware of their environments, more robust and secure.
Christoph Kerkmann writes about start-ups for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]