If you've been looking forward to the day when the self-flying drone startup Skydio will become a real competitor of DJI, you may not have received today's announcement well. You might have assumed that Skydio's decision to build his next flying flagship camera exclusively for the corporate and military markets, after two impressive drones that weren't reaching their full potential, meant that this was only the case with consumers.
But Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio, tells The Verge that he's just getting started – there are more consumer drones on the move.
"We have more products in this market that we look forward to," reveals Bry. The timing was just right to expand into the corporate market as well. In both markets, he says, the goal is not to beat DJI by copying DJI, but to build drones that can automatically do things that currently require an experienced pilot to pull off.
“Being able to follow you is something an experienced pilot could do. An experienced pilot can inspect a house. Being able to inspect a bridge is something an experienced pilot can do. How do we use this in software so that everyone can benefit from it? “Bry asks rhetorically.
Skydio sees it as building specific “AI skills” to do all of these things. Let's start with some concrete examples where the drone's cameras are used to first image the area around them and then automatically take a series of high-resolution images that can be put together to scan a house, bridge, or other inspection facility create:
Bry says he sees opportunities for “skills” outside the company, especially in the world of cinematography, where operating a camera also requires expertise and where flying cameras could theoretically perform camera movements that are virtually impossible for on-site cameramen are.
However, he also believes that a different business model could be the way forward – regardless of whether you choose the new foldable Skydio X2 or the Skydio 2 for end users, corporate customers will pay for a subscription service for these new capabilities, instead of just buying from the side -shelf drones.
Rely on "Made in USA"
If you are familiar with this idea of skill-driven-drone upgrades, you might think of the promising 3D robotics pitch for drone startups a few years ago, before it was replaced by DJI's rapidly advancing, reliable, and relatively affordable line of drones .
But the story could not be repeated. Now governments and industries have become more cautious about products made in China to the point that the U.S. Department of State is putting its fleet made by DJI on the ground. Skydio is confident that its US-made pedigree will help to sign contracts with corporate and military customers that DJI cannot currently handle. In fact, the company already has contracts with the U.S. Air Force, Army, and DEA, Wired reports.
However, this does not mean that Skydio is ready to become a weapons system provider or to help the police monitor citizens. The company's new “Engagement and Responsible Use Principles” explicitly states that Skydio does not put weapons on its drones and generally speaks out against fully automated weapons – and Bry tells me that Skydio would not work with a company that plans to use weapons to put drones on his drones too.
"We believe that drones should be involved in emergency situations, not active surveillance, and I think that's a pretty clear line," he says, adding that Skydio plans to be involved as much as possible in policy making around autonomous drones to become. "You ship a product out there, you wash your hands off it … that's not our approach," says Bry.
However, the company is already working with at least one police station in Chula Vista, California, and it is not clear how it would know if its drones are being used to monitor protesters or other citizens. At the moment, Bry is focusing on positive use cases, such as how drones could theoretically serve as a kind of flying body camera and how they could enable more objective observers (such as a police captain) to better assess distant situations.
Bry is not yet saying how much the Skydio X2 will cost or what we can expect from future consumer drones. (Does the newly discovered foldability of the X2 mean that we can finally get a pocket, wallet, or messenger-friendly fold-follow-me drone? No comment.) He won't say if there's a way to use the new 360- of the Skydio. Degree situation view with a VR or AR headset – only that I am on the right track. Currently, this function is limited to an equal-angle projection (see example below) on the integrated screen or the HDMI output of the new Skydio Enterprise Controller.
And no, there is no way to pair the upcoming Skydio Enterprise Controller with today's Skydio 2 for end users, even if you could afford it. If you want a better end-user self-flying drone than the Skydio 2 and Skydio 2, compromises that come with the three different control schemes just have to wait.