You’d better have some cool places lined up to take Skydio’s newest drone camera, because it can snap aerial photo and video like a professional.
For fans of the Bay Area-based company’s first drone, the R1, the newest iteration announced Tuesday is sleeker, lighter, smaller, frameless, and more like a camera app that you control from your phone. Most importantly, it’s cheaper. Like $999, compared to almost $2,000 for its predecessor that came out 18 months ago.
At about the $1,000 mark it’s iPhone-priced, but “phones don’t fly,” as Skydio CEO Adam Bry said. Main competitor DJI’s highest-end portable drone is over $1,000.
Bry likened the R1 to the Tesla Roadster — a necessary first product to build a foundation to an eventual more consumer-friendly product: the Skydio 2. At only 770 grams and with no cumbersome frame like on the R1, the drone packs away like a laptop.
The autonomous capabilities lead to more creative drone sessions, instead of focusing on piloting and avoiding obstacles. The drone almost magically dodges things, like a patch of trees, without you worrying about where it’s going while you control its path from a smartphone app.
The drone, while aimed at sports enthusiasts, extreme sports, racers, and travelers, is still a drone. It can invade others’ privacy, capture footage unbeknownst to people below, and whirs fairly loudly above.
The battery lasts for a 23-minute flight. It can capture video footage of a mountain biker or kayaker going up to 36 mph.
Even testing out the new drone in a boring suburban park, it was impressive to see the drone zoom high above to capture the cityscape beyond. The drone can make it to heights just under 3 miles up, but FAA regulations for recreational drones will keep the device hovering much closer.
I rode on an e-scooter and the Skydio stayed on me as I rolled around the park. It anticipated my moves, and followed whatever criteria the pilot set on the app-turned-controller.
Then there’s the AI and machine learning components — it knows how to focus on faces, track vehicles, follow you from behind or in front, and avoid obstacles, while using the camera vision from six 4K fisheye cameras. It fuses the info from all of the cameras. It’s the autonomous component from R1 that’s still as significant for the Skydio 2. “It’s a couple generations ahead for autonomy” in a drone, Bry said.
You can take smooth, cinematic video, especially with auxiliary tools (selling for $149 a piece) like the GPS-enabled Beacon that controls the drone like a wand and allows it to go higher, and phone-based remote control for a piloting experience with knobs, more like a traditional drone experience.
Skydio 2 reservations start Tuesday for $100, with first shipments coming out in November. After the limited release more drones will be available in 2020. For R1 owners, a discount price is available for the new drone.
Now go get that shot.