HowHow many people would buy flying cameras, aka drones, if they didn’t have to fear every twig on every tree in the world? How much more could you do with a drone that doesn’t crash into obstacles?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions — the $999 Skydio 2 is that drone. Where one wrong move will send most drones to their doom, Skydio’s self-flying system uses AI to duck under canopies and swoop around branches with finesse all by itself. The results have to be seen to be believed: People who’ve never flown a drone in their lives can fly this drone. My three-year-old flew this drone. Better yet, it can fly itself, automatically filming your hikes, bike rides, or the kinds of stunts you’d normally capture with a GoPro, but from the sky instead.
Does that mean you should buy a Skydio 2? That’s a more complicated question because, in some ways, this flying robot camera isn’t very smart at all. It’ll boil down to just how much you can trust this drone — and how much you’re willing and able to let a computer take the controls.
According to a drone market analysis conduct by DroneII, DJI is showing no signs of loosening its iron grip on the US drone market. Notwithstanding challenges such as the $150 million corporate fraud, US-China trade wars, and the more recent American Drone Security Act, the Shenzen-based manufacturer continues to control a commanding 76.8% of the US drone market.
Many homegrown drone manufacturers like GoPro and 3DR have attempted to challenge DJI’s dominance in the consumer drone market, only to fail spectacularly. Yet others like Intel and Parrot are choosing to play it safe by limiting themselves to the enterprise segment.
However, this status quo could dramatically change with the launch of the Skydio R2.
Skydio, a California based company founded in 2014 launched the Skydio R1 drone in 2018. A $2,500 price tag and limited capabilities translated into muted commercial success. However, Skydio has significantly upped the ante with their new Skydio drone.
In fact autonomous flying capabilities and affordable pricing (more on this later) has many industry analysts touting this new Skydio drone as a serious challenger to DJI’s flagship drone, Mavic 2 Pro.
Skydio is making no bones about squarely targeting the market leader. One of their very first marketing videos shows a Phantom crashing to the ground. This is followed by the tag-line, “Drones are Dumb”. But wait…Skydio is smart. The following footage shows the new Skydio drone autonomously and flawlessly avoiding obstacles.
The folks behind Skydio, Adam Bry and Abraham Bachrach certainly have the right credentials to man this ambitious project. For starters, both Adam and Abraham are MIT graduates. Particularly, Adam has worked on Google’s Project Wing project whereas Abraham has worked in the gaming industry.
Skydio 2 Specs and Capabilities – The Good and the Not So Good
Here are the detailed Skydio 2 Specs:
- Size: 223 x 273 x 74 mm
- Weight: 775 grams
- Six visual sensing cameras for obstacle avoidance
- Sony IMX577 1/2.3” 12.3MP CMOS camera
- Maximum Flight Time: 23 minutes
- Maximum Wind Speed Resistance: 25 mph
The Skydio 2 is capable of shooting in 4K60 with its Sony IMX577 1/2.3” 12.3MP CMOS camera. As per the Skydio website, the Skydio R2 can fly for 23 minutes and has a maximum wind speed resistance of 25 mph.
Another factor worth mentioning is the impressive dynamic range of 13 stops. As is evident from the sample footage posted on the Skydio website, the drone seems to quite capable of capturing details in dark and light areas.
There are 3 ways of flying the drone: 1) Through the App 2) Through the Beacon 3) Through the Controller
You will get a flying range of 200 m if you use the App. This range is extended to 1.5 km when you use the Beacon. For an even larger flying radius of 3 km, you will need the controller. Note that you will have to pay extra for the Beacon and the Controller.
One minor drawback is that the drone is not foldable. The Mavic 2 Pro, for instance, shrinks from 322×242×84 mm to 214×91×84 mm when folded. Whereas, because of the six cameras mounted on the R2, is it not possible to fold the arms of the new Skydio drone. Still, with dimensions of 223 x 273 x 74 mm, this drone has a small footprint and can easily fit into a 14-inch laptop bag.
The second disappointing factor, albeit a minor one is pertaining to the controller. It is a rebranded Parrot Anafi controller, which according to reviews has a poor build that does not justify the $150 price tag. And lastly, we were not impressed with the small sensor size on the Skydio 2 – another deterrent for some prospective buyers.
Is Skydio R2 a Truly Autonomous Drone?
Flight autonomy is certainly the biggest selling point for the Skydio R2. Six 200 degrees cameras (!) utilizing 45 Megapixels of data result in omni-directional obstacle avoidance and a truly autonomous flight. As per the Skydio website, the Mavic 2 utilizes just 4.9 Megapixels and the Mavic Air, 1.9 Megapixels.
“At the heart of Skydio 2 is the NVIDIA Jetson TX2, the fastest, most power-efficient embedded AI computing device available. With 256 GPU cores capable of 1.3 trillion operations a second, Skydio 2 is the flying supercomputer”.
The beacon is, perhaps one of the cleverest features of the new Skydio drone. The Beacon is a small remote with a built-in GPS locator. So, once you keep the beacon in your pocket, the drone can use GPS to find you again after losing line of sight. Moreover, the built-in “wand” feature, allows you to control your drone easily.
On the Skydio website, a promotional video compares the autonomous flying capabilities of the R2 to the Mavic 2 Pro. In this video, you can see the Skydio drone following the subject, an ATV driving through dense woods, and effortlessly avoiding all obstacles. Whereas, the Mavic 2 Pro is shown to lose sight of the ATV as it speeds ahead in a zig-zag manner through the woods.
In order to autonomously film action sports using DJI drones like the Mavic 2 Pro, you will have to turn on DJI’s “ActiveTrack” function. ActiveTrack works only when the drone can keep the subject in sight. So, unlike the Skydio which uses GPS and Artificial Intelligence-enabled obstacle avoidance to track a subject, the Mavic 2 Pro will just hover when LOS is lost.
“Obstacle avoidance for the Skydio 2 works for a maximum speed of 35mph. This is 3x that of Mavic 2”.
Now, bear in mind that a pilot with advanced flying skills would be able to navigate the Mavic 2 through obstacles and grab the desired footage. If, however, the Skydio 2 flies flawlessly in autonomous mode, 100% of the time, it is a significant leg up on the competition.
“This ability to avoid obstacles autonomously makes the self-flying drone, Skydio 2 an excellent choice for applications which require flying in confined spaces – like public safety and industrial inspections. In fact the Skydio 2 starts recording automatically on takeoff”.
Skydio R2 vs Mavic 2 Pro vs Phantom 4 Pro – How Do They Stack Up?
Skydio R2 Price and Availability
Skydio has priced the R2 aggressively at $999. You can book the Skydio 2 with a refundable deposit of $100. However, this $999 price does not include accessories like the controller and the beacon. The controller and the beacon are both priced at $149. Extra batteries will cost you $99 each whereas props are priced at $24.
Further, in another industry-first, Skydio is offering a 1-year warranty on the R2 as long as you follow their safety and operating guidelines.