If you are a snowboarder, mountain biker, skateboarder, climber or trail runner and looking to publicize your adventures, there is a new eye in the sky to add a new angle to your videos. The second-generation Skydio 2 takes over the basic capability of the original model, avoiding obstacles as it follows and registers you. But now it has better navigation, controls, speed, range, video quality, and perhaps most importantly, a price tag of $ 1,000 instead of $ 2,500 for the first generation model from last year.
A wave of interest in drones early in this decade subsided when most people realized they didn’t really need an expensive flying camera. But people are still interested in capturing moments of adventure, and many of them are buyingfor this reason. That’s where Skydio’s self-steering R2 fits in: it gives you a perspective you can’t get with a simple GoPro strapped to your handlebars or helmet.
The Skydio 2 records video with a 20mm equivalent camera stabilized with a three-axis gimbal, but it also has six fisheye camera eyes only for navigation. They feed data to the Nvidia Tegra X2 processor which runs the drone’s AI scene processing software. By understanding its entire environment, the drone can trace a course around buildings and through trees in a forest while following its designated subject.
And people want it. The first production run, which is slated to start shipping in November for those making a $ 100 down payment, sold out on Wednesday, the day after the drone was announced, so any new orders will now arrive in 2020, Skydio tweeted. Skydio manufactures its drones in a building across from the headquarters in Redwood City, California.
Challenging drone king DJI
The lower price brings Skydio into the reach of drone enthusiasts, while its technology “removes the stress and fear of crashing,” Skydio CEO and co-founder Adam Bry said.
The Skydio 2 also means Skydio is directly challenging drone giant DJI, whose Spark, Mavic, Phantom and Inspire lines range from casual selfie drones to high-end cinematography machines. Skydio thinks its tracking and self-piloting AI gives it an edge.
“DJI has been super dominant. There’s narrative they already won,” Bry said. “We think this really challenges that.”
DJI gave Skydio a pat on the back but said it’s already got tracking and obstacle avoidance technology.
“It’s great to see more companies entering the industry and offering unique products,” DJI said in a statement. “Automated features like this are incredibly popular with our customers and DJI has been using items like ActiveTrack and APAS [Advanced Pilot Assistance System] for several years now. “
Two new Skydio drone controllers
As with last year’s Skydio drone, you can fly the Skydio 2 with an Android phone or an iPhone. The new model, however, also gets two new controllers, each costing $ 150.
A model with two joysticks offers traditional remote controls to pilot the drone. Your phone snaps into place to present a drone eye view and offer touchscreen controls. For example, the drone video view superimposes a plus sign on each person or car that the drone can see, and tap that plus sign to select the subject the video follows.
The second controller, called a beacon, uses GPS to allow the drone to track the person holding it even when it is hidden behind trees. You can use the beacon to tell R2 to fly forward, backward, left, or right. And you can easily reposition the R2 by pointing the beacon at the drone, pressing a button, pointing the beacon to a new location, and then releasing the button.
The controllers also allow you to control the drone from further away, up to around 109 meters (100 meters) with just a phone around 0.9 miles (1.5 km) with the beacon and around 2.2 miles (3 , 6 km) with the joystick controller.
Improvements over the first Skydio
The Skydio 2 has several improvements over last year’s model:
- It’s about half the size at 10×12 inches (255×297 millimeters), now compact enough that its case fits easily into a backpack.
- It can fly for 23 minutes, down from 16. Additional batteries cost $ 100 each.
- Its top speed is 36 mph, up from 25 mph, which might be handy for tracking vehicles.
- It still has a 4K camera, but the new 12 megapixel Sony IMX477 sensor produces better video and photo quality in part thanks to a wide dynamic range of 13 stops, Skydio explains. It will take up to 60 frames per second at 4K resolution and 120 fps at 1080p.
Try the Skydio 2
I have tried the Skydio 2, and it works well even for those new to drones. I can’t vouch for its low-light capabilities, but it didn’t have any issues in a sunny field near the company headquarters.
I could operate the drone here or there with the beacon. Pressing the arrow buttons sent the drone further or brought it back so I could choose the distance I liked.
The drone itself followed me without too much trouble as I ran, scooted, and biked through a field and among the trees. The Skydio 2 can’t always maintain its designated position as you navigate through obstacles, but it regularly tracked my position and kept me in the video it recorded.
I doubt I’m the only one who hasn’t mastered gamepads. But the Skydio 2’s self-contained abilities allow me to fly it straight over trees or walls without worrying about a real crash. This self-piloting software meant that even I could get the video perspective I wanted.
First published October 1.
Update, October 2: Notes that the initial Skydio 2 drone bundle is sold out and adds comments from DJI and
Correction, October 1 at 10:38 am: The product is called the Skydio 2.