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Mars has a new inhabitant: the Snapdragon.
The common Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which powers most of the Android smartphones in the US, is running inside Ingenuity, an autonomous drone now on Mars, Qualcomm says. It arrived on the Red Planet yesterday via the Perseverance rover (which uses a processor similar to those you’d find in early iMacs), and will be our first attempt to fly something in the atmosphere of Mars.
Snapdragon Takes Flight on the Red Planet
Peserverance’s Ingenuity helicopter is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor using the Snapdragon Flight platform. Ingenuity isn’t part of the rover’s core mission: it’s a proof-of-concept to show that you can fly on Mars, with five test flights scheduled over the next month.
The Snapdragon Flight platform, announced in 2015, has a 2.26GHz CPU and can capture 4K video. The 4-pound helicopter needs to be more powerful than the rover itself because it’s autonomously figuring out how to navigate in complex conditions in real time. Ingenuity will have to figure out how to keep itself warm, make sure it’s charged, check its blades and motors, and then fly and land, all without direct human involvement. The flights will go up to about 16 feet into the air and last up to 90 seconds, according to NASA.
The chopper has a downward-facing, 0.5-megapixel navigation camera and a 13-megapixel front-facing camera to help it figure out what’s going on around it. Its “phone” component runs on the 900MHz frequency—similar to many cordless landline phones—and transmits data at up to 250kbps for about a half-mile distance back to the rover.
4 Phones That Ran the Snapdragon 801
The Snapdragon 801 chipset was quite popular in celebrated smartphones of that era. Here are four that have the same onboard power as a helicopter on Mars:
In 2015, we said “with an unbeatable price and power to spare, the OnePlus One is an Android revelation that challenges expectations for affordable smartphones.”
Samsung Galaxy S5
In 2014, I said “the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the fastest, most functional smartphone available today. It has the best screen, the best Wi-Fi performance, and the best camera for an Android phone.”
In 2014, we said “the LG G3 somehow packs a world-beating screen and a huge battery into a slim, premium-feeling case, making it the most advanced phone on the market.
HTC One M8
In 2014, we said “apps launch with urgency, high-end games play smoothly, and full desktop websites render with ease. Everything about using the One is buttery smooth.”
Perseverance: The Power of an Early iMac
Perseverance itself is based on a much older chipset, according to this NASA document. That’s because the rover is very similar to the previous Curiosity rover. The Bae Rad750 radiation-hardened computer has 256MB of RAM and 2GB of storage, and it runs on a 200MHz PowerPC 750-compatible processor. That gives it roughly the power of an original 1998 iMac, or—if you prefer—the 1998 “Wallstreet”-era Powerbook G3 models. (We reviewed that iMac, too. Check out what we said at the time below.)
Of course, there are much more powerful cameras and sensors on board Perseverance than were attached to a typical early iMac, including a 20-megapixel navigation camera and multiple long-range radios.
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