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Qualcomm Looks to Enter Drone Market Before It Takes Off

With smartphone market growth slowing, Qualcomm is looking for new places to sell its processors. Enter the drones.

Ina Fried for Re/code

With growth in the smartphone market leveling off, chipmaker Qualcomm is looking for other buyers for its processors.

One area the company is targeting in the short term is the growing market for consumer drones, especially those used for photography.

Ina Fried for Re/code

Adding to the cost and bulk of today’s consumer drones are the multiple chips needed to handle photography, navigation and communications.

“One Snapdragon 800 can actually do all that,” Qualcomm Senior VP Raj Talluri said in an interview on Thursday.

By putting its chips in flight, Qualcomm believes it can cut hundreds of dollars from the price of entry-level photography drones, which today start at around $500. “We should be able to bring the cost of drones down significantly,” Talluri said.

Qualcomm plans to formally announce its drone effort and share more details next month, but already the company has been meeting with some of the leading drone manufacturers and providing samples of its chip package. It also recently acquired a flight software company to boost its capabilities in the area.

As part of his pitch, Talluri totes along a prototype 3-D-printed drone to demonstrate how Qualcomm’s technology can provide the expected features in a smaller package and at a lower price. Eventually, Talluri said that drones using Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 820 could have even more advanced features around collision avoidance and geofencing.

The move into drones comes as the company as a whole is looking to scale back on its far-flung efforts as it looks to cut $1.4 billion in annual operating expenses. The company is also in the process of trimming 15 percent of its workforce.

But Talluri said drones and other Internet-of-Things devices are an opportunity to take Qualcomm’s existing technology into new areas.

“We’re not scaling back on those kinds of things,” Talluri said.

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