The Edge

Kinetic Edge Powers Flying Robots

If you're looking for some kick-aaS tech, look no further. Vapor IO and Hangar are teaming up to deliver Robotics-as-a-System (RaaS), a platform created by Hangar and powered by Vapor IO's Kinetic Edge infrastructure. In its early days, RaaS will support automated drone deployments, enabling services such as construction site monitoring and environmental data collection after a natural disaster. In the future, Hangar and Vapor IO aim to provide a nationwide open platform for all types of autonomous vehicle communications and data processing.

How does an edge computing company like Vapor IO end up working with something as cool as flying robots? The answer is that these drones need both high-speed data ingest capabilities and access to low-latency processing power. Without an edge infrastructure in place, drones won't be able to effectively perform tasks at scale like precision navigation or collection and analysis of precise situational data. That infrastructure, however, is expensive to deploy for each new drone application that needs it, which is why Hangar and Vapor IO are working together to create a shared infrastructure, embedding the RaaS platform in Vapor IO's Kinetic Edge.

Vapor IO introduced its Kinetic Edge architecture last year with a rollout in Chicago. The model involves covering a geographic region with micro data centers spaced 15 to 20 kilometers apart and connected via a fiber ring. Vapor IO provides both the micro data centers and the software necessary to ingest data from nearby physical surroundings, while the company's partner Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI) provides the fiber connectivity and the necessary real estate at the network edge. (See Vapor IO Is Virtualizing the Edge.)

Right now, Chicago is the only Kinetic Edge city, but Vapor IO says it plans to have 27 deployments by the end of this year, and more than 100 in 2019.

Source: Vapor IO and Hangar
Source: Vapor IO and Hangar

Hangar, meanwhile, has been focused on proving the value of its RaaS platform, running hundreds of thousands of drone flights and capturing imagery in a wide variety of situations. Founder and CEO Jefferey DeCoux talks about using Hangar to collect real-time data from drones after the 2017 hurricanes and wild fires, and he says that with the success of those missions and others, it's now time to address more of the technical challenges to scalable deployment.Those challenges include meeting the edge computing requirements for drones, enabling massive data capture, finding a way to collect micro-level weather information and supporting precision navigation.

On the navigation front, DeCoux says, "Luckily there's a lot of partners. You do research just in the last year, [and] companies like Sapcorda, Humatics [and] Swift Navigation have all come forward with technology that can solve precision navigation at the edge. And what's critical for us to leverage that is somewhere for that technology to be rolled out. And what Vapor has rolled out and the real estate coverage that they have is going to be ideal for a lot of these services to be offered at the edge."

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Drone-based services are still in their infancy, but the necessary pieces for further development are slowly coming together, and DeCoux says Hangar is regularly in communication with state and federal government agencies, insurers and numerous partners about deployment scenarios.

DeCoux also sees drones as an important precursor to the widespread adoption of autonomous cars. Not only are there fewer safety concerns inhibiting adoption, but drones with their mounted cameras collect far more data -- 40 to 60 gigabytes of data per drone -- than vehicles on the road will. If new systems like the RaaS platform can handle the information load from early drone deployments, then autonomous cars in the future shouldn't be a problem.

Commercial implementation of Hangar's RaaS platform is just beginning now, but the company plans to extend its technology across all of Vapor IO's Kinetic Edge cities as they light up. Eventually, the goal is to create a national footprint to support autonomous robotics.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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