Intel’s Vision for Single Board Computers is to Have Better Vision


At the Bay Area Maker Faire last weekend, Intel was showing off a couple of sexy newcomers in the Single Board Computer (SBC) market. It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that SBCs are all about simple boards with a double-digit price tag like the Raspberry Pi. How can you compete with a $35 computer that has a huge market share and a gigantic community? You compete by appealing to a crowd not satisfied with these entry-level SBCs, and for that Intel appears to be targeting a much higher-end audience that needs computer vision along with the speed and horsepower to do something meaningful with it.

I caught up with Intel’s “Maker Czar”, Jay Melican, at Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend. A year ago, it was a Nintendo Power Glove controlled quadcopter that caught my eye. This year I only had eyes for the two new computing modules on offer, the Joule and the Euclid. They both focus on connecting powerful processors to high-resolution cameras and using a full-blown Linux operating system for the image processing. But it feels like the Joule is meant more for your average hardware hacker, and the Euclid for software engineers who are pointing their skills at robots but don’t want to get bogged down in first-principles of hardware. Before you rage about this in the comments, let me explain.

Euclid

This is the Euclid. Its size and shape reminds me of digital recorders from the 90’s and early 2000’s, but it has a sleek glossy black finish (a bit different from when first teased in August) and bristling with ports, buttons, and a few obvious sets of optics.

This beast is running a quad-core Atom processor with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB on-board storage. That alone isn’t going to blow you away, but the Euclid also has a RealSense depth camera, an RGB camera, and a fisheye camera built in. It’s capable of stereoscopic vision (VGA resolution) and includes a bevy of sensors crucial for robotics like IMU and GPS. The thing even comes with a Lithium battery.

It’s running a full desktop install of Ubuntu which may sound a bit like overkill, but I think the whole point of something like this is for people who don’t want to learn a new platform. Next week we’ll be publishing an article about a group of hackers who were showing off their Autonomous RC Vehicles at the Faire. They have competed in Sparkfun’s AVC and slapped a Macbook Pro onto and RC chassis for the purpose. The Euclid is going to provide much of the same functionality they had for that build at between a fifth and a tenth of the price — all wrapped up in a cozy little case (standard tripod mount for an easy interface). Grab your wireless keyboard and plug into the HDMI to program and debug, or use the built-in WiFi to tunnel in.

In the case of the small wheeled robot you see here, the connectivity to the bot is accomplished through USB. A lower-level embedded board drives the motor controller, with serial commands issued from the Euclid. Some might criticize the latency of using USB, but SBCs controlling robots almost always have similar latency issues.

Joule

If you’re more into the bare PCB, the Joule which was announced back in August) is worth a look. It uses an approach now familiar from Intel’s “maker” offerings; Joule itself is a module that needs a host board to break out all of the connections. It is also running an Atom processor with 4GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage. Sounds a lot like the Euclid, right? They’re close, but the two do have different processors.

Basically, Joule is the brains, and Euclid is a flashy way to market them… and like I said earlier, get more people hacking without getting stuck trying to connect bits of hardware together. But many of us love to connect bits of hardware together and that’s why the 48 broken out GPIO are a robot builder’s delight.

This module delivers the same ability to process computer vision as the Euclid, but you’ll need to bring your own cameras to the party. You could buy the Intel RealSense depth camera the Euclid is packing, but at the Intel booth, it was an underwater ROV that caught my interest.

The team at Rajida sourced a binocular camera board from TaoBao and built their ROV to follow colorful fish around. I got a pretty neat demo using a yellow angelfish toy on a stick. Unfortunately, the Intel booth was outside and sunny California is no place to record video of television playback. Enjoy the still images and trust me that this works and it’s cool.

Brian Benchoff often writes (ironically – ed.)  about the “selfie drone” being the killer app for portable computer vision. I’m thinking there would be a huge market for underwater ROVs that follow scuba divers and record the experience from a 3rd person perspective.

You can get your hands on a Joule now for $299-$349. Looks like Euclid isn’t shipping yet but pre-orders on Intel’s site start at about $399.



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