Unfortunately I've determined that the Aero RTF kit doesn't meet my needs and I've decided to return it. Although my 'ROI' on explaining why here is probably sub-zero, I want to describe the reasons so that Intel can use the information to learn/improve and developers are forewarned about what they're getting into.
I ordered the Aero RTF with the expectation that the 'RTF' kit would at least be a stable platform with basic sense & avoid capability. It is neither of these. My goal was to familiarize & experiment with the RTF kit until achieving a basic comfort level, then transplant the components onto one of the larger drone prototypes that I'm working on. However, this experience hasn't met my expectations in any way. To briefly enumerate why:
- The kit was promised to ship in late December. I didn't get mine until last week, an unexpected & unexplained two-month delay.
- My unit is apparently defective. I am an experienced drone builder and operator. I followed the supplied instructions to the letter. This vehicle, at least my unit, is not 'RTF' (implied tuned & stable in flight). In fact, despite taking appropriate precautions on my part (never achieved > 2ft hover due to instability) the vehicle ended up refusing to disarm, flipped over, and sustained minor damage on my initial attempt to fly it.
- As a small technology developer, I ordered my unit with the expectation that I could get productive results without a huge investment. I simply don't have the time & money to spend troubleshooting an unfamiliar platform. In the past, for experimental platforms l have found it's better to build from the ground up, fully understanding, configuring and tuning subsystems as I go. My experience with Aero RTF confirms this - it's learning curve is steep, documentation is thin to non-existant, and support personnel working here are apparently being asked to support an assembly of technologies that they are unfamiliar with and unprepared to provide productive, experienced support that a device like this requires.
- As mentioned but needs to be underlined, documentation is thin to non-existant. I see forum posts where Intel support people are apparently trying to reverse-engineer documentation from users (?) "Documentation is forthcoming" (some day, with no target date) isn't really acceptable to me. Even fundamental questions like what battery to use remain unanswered and Intel support folks (no fault of their own) apparently can't even suggest a battery due to big-company CYA. We are left to speculate. And this is only one example.
- The platform doesn't meet my expectations in any way. Even if my unit had flown correctly, I purchased the developer kit with the expectation that RealSense technology would be active in at least some minimal way. I.e. that algorithms to provide stabilization via the optical-flow sensor & basic sense/avoid would be enabled. I am now informed by Intel that this is not the case and in fact Intel has no intention to add such algorithms in the future.
- Although understand the developer-facing nature of this product, I also understand that writing real-time spacial processing & recognition algorithms on minimal hardware is hard. Although perhaps a community effort might form to provide these capabilities in the future, this prospect is very much TBD. Furthermore, my understanding (from a 'clearance to operate' IP search results perspective) such algorithms are heavily patented. I had expected to gain at least basic patent protection from under the Intel patent portfolio umbrella, but this is not the case. Therefore, investing my time in this area is probably not wise.
- Apparently there is an insider-group (Intel partners like Yuneec) who have access to the missing documentation & core technologies that we 2nd-tier developers & enthusiasts are blocked from.
- The combination of the above, means that I'm unlikely to resolve these issues within the 30-day return period. The road to results, at last for me, isn't short & direct Rather it apparently begins at a cul-de-sac.
My apologies if this is getting TL;DR. To summarize, I believe Intel has a good thing going with RealSense. Unfortunately it appears that the typical large-company middle-management CYA decisions have hamstrung the product for users like me. I'm going to take a close look at Yuneec's products to see it it's reasonable to graft it's controller onto my airframes. Apparently these vehicles not only have RealSense hardware onboard, but have software to make it useful.
Thanks for reading this. I hope someone here finds it valuable. Good luck!