Saturday , October 23 2021

The autonomous drone manufacturer Skydio switches to the military and companies with its first folding drone

Skydio, a startup that makes autonomous drones that fly themselves with little human intervention, is entering the commercial drone market with its new X2 model. The X2 is Skydio's first non-consumer device and is marketed with a built-in infrared thermal imager to government agencies, the military and other organizations that require air surveillance or measurement. The announcement of X2 coincides with Skydio's new $ 100 million financing round led by the Next47 company of German multinational Siemens.

Skydio launched the Skydio R1 a little over two years ago. The R1 was an autonomous drone with impressive obstacle avoidance with artificial intelligence and other sensors and software features that allowed it to fly seamlessly through complex outdoor environments like forested trails while following motifs.

However, the R1 was quite expensive at $ 2,500, and applications for Skydio's first drone continued to be limited to recording extreme sports like mountain biking and other more casual activities. The idea was that inexperienced drone pilots or even total amateurs could buy a flying camera that could follow you and automatically film your activities without hitting trees.

The company, composed of MIT drone experts and alumni of Google's wing drone delivery unit, continued to improve the software and add new features until it released its Skydio 2 follow-up last year. The second iteration was much cheaper at $ 999 and significantly improved the drone's design and capabilities. But it still suffered from lackluster manual controls thanks to a renamed Parrot Anafi controller, which was an improvement over the smartphone app used by the R1, but was sometimes buggy and unreliable. That meant the Skydio 2 couldn't keep up with the precision and control of flying and recording a DJI drone.

The X2 is supposed to change all of this, with the unfortunate disadvantage for consumers that it isn't really for them. The X2 has folding arms, a first for Skydio, after the company had previous difficulties in using its AI-controlled autonomous flight capabilities with drones, which can be folded up in a smaller package modeled on DJI's Mavic Pro.

(Skydio previously said the limitation was that the software's navigation cameras would have to be positioned exactly in relation to each other and to the rest of the drone. However, both arms were designed to be "fairly rigid" when unfolded, and the software revised adapt to slight flight changes.)

This X2 also features a GPS-powered night flight, visible light and IR illuminators for flying in the dark, as well as a full-fledged controller for companies with an integrated touchscreen. The battery life is longer with 35 minutes of flight time than with 23 minutes for the Skydio 2 and, in addition to its 12-megapixel main camera, has the aforementioned thermal imaging camera with a resolution of 320 x 256.

Photo: Skydio

There are also some new software features that come with the X2: a 360-degree super zoom for up to 100x zoom in all directions, and a new precision mode that allows pilots to fly the X2 in narrower environments without fear Avoiding that autonomous functions are like obstacles can affect manual control.

Skydio will bring a 3D scan function for Skydio 2 and X2 later this year, which was developed for "inspections of complex industrial structures and locations such as bridges, building facades, energy infrastructure, accident and crime scenes". There will also be an insurance agent house scan feature that can be used to automatically inspect houses:

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Skydio is launching two versions of the X2 later this year. One is called X2D and is explicitly designed for the US Army. Skydio calls it "the ultimate military and defense solution to conduct reconnaissance, search and rescue missions, and security patrols." The other is the X2E, which, according to Skydio, is "optimized for companies, first aiders and civil authorities". No prices are announced either, as it is likely that these devices will be sold under larger contracts or specific offers that apply only to the companies or agencies involved.

The company's transition from a selfie drone manufacturer to a potential contractor for the American military is understandable given the lack of everyday consumer interest in state-of-the-art drone technology. However, Skydio positions this move as a way to establish a U.S. drone manufacturer as the leading government supplier and competitor to the China-based DJI, which has previously delivered drones to the U.S. government before it dealt with Chinese espionage and cyber attacks led some agencies to ground their UAV fleets.

Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio, told us last month that he was opening an additional manufacturing facility in the United States this summer to meet demand after he had previously completely relocated to a tiny assembly line near his offices in Mountain View , CA, had left.

"Manual drones lack the software intelligence that businesses need to scale their programs," Bry said in a statement today. “Skydio's goal is to unlock the value of drones by creating a radically simple user experience through the power of real autonomy. With Skydio 2 (S2), we have proven that our autonomy software can fundamentally change the way people use drones and that an American company is not only competitive, but also a leader in AI-based drone technology can be. We are now bringing the power of autonomy to businesses, government agencies, first responders and defense customers. "

Update, 8:23 p.m. ET: We talked a little more about the announcements to Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio. You can read his answers at the link below.

About Nancie Clifford

Nancie Clifford is a housewife and loves technology. He writes on various websites.

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