post-title Skydio 2: the self-flying future of drones starts at $999 – The Verge 2019-10-03 10:30:42 yes no Posted by Categories: Computer Repair LKN, Home Page

Skydio 2: the self-flying future of drones starts at $999 – The Verge

Posted by Categories: Computer Repair LKN, Home Page

Last year, I got to play with one of the most amazing gadgets I’ve ever touched: a drone that flies itself, a drone that could follow me through a park without crashing into trees, a drone that could map out the world using 12 different cameras and predict where I’d go. That drone was the $2,500 Skydio R1. But that polished prototype was more of a sales pitch than a product. At best, I thought, it would convince DJI or Amazon to buy this tiny startup and integrate it into their drones. It convinced me that autonomous drones were the future, but I figured that future was years away.

But Skydio says that future is coming as soon as next month — with the new Skydio 2.

In almost every way, the Skydio 2 is the drone I wished I’d played with last year. The original was big enough that it couldn’t fit into a normal backpack; the new drone is 50 percent smaller, 50 percent lighter, 50 percent quieter, and — at 23 minutes — has 43 percent more battery life, too. With an iffy camera and no remote controller, the original Skydio R1 was a one-trick pony that couldn’t fly out and take gorgeous photos and videos like your average DJI. But the new Skydio 2 not only has a host of Sony 4K cameras for improved navigation, photos, and video, but it has two different optional remote controllers to choose from that let you fly out multiple kilometers of instead of being tied to your phone.

You can fly the drone with a bona fide set of joysticks this time at up to 36 miles per hour, with Skydio’s second-gen autonomy engine promising to keep the drone from crashing into anything while you do.

Skydio says it’s the first drone that’s safe enough that I could hand my three-year-old the controller, and it’s willing to back up that promise with a warranty: if you manage to crash it while flying within the company’s Safe Flight guidelines (not at night, not in rain or fog or high winds, etc.), it will repair or replace your drone for free.

Then there’s the price: at $999 without a controller, the Skydio 2 is less than half the cost of the original and more than competitive with DJI’s prosumer Mavic drones, particularly now that Trump’s tariffs are in force. In short, Skydio’s no longer pitching a productized proof of concept; this might be the first self-flying drone you may actually want to buy.

In a mildly sweltering conference room on the second floor of Skydio’s offices in Redwood City, California, co-founder Adam Bry tells The Verge that building a consumer drone was the plan all along. “We kind of think of R1 as the Tesla Roadster of autonomous drones,” says Bry, referring to how carmaker Tesla started by building a limited run of 2,500 electric sports cars to prove its ambition, years before it launched the Model S in 2012. Bry won’t say how many of the original Skydio R1s his 80-employee company has sold, but it could be similarly small. As he shows us, every single Skydio drone is hand-assembled and tested in Redwood City as well.

Skydio’s polished lobby and conference room are merely a facade: when Bry opens a door just across the hall, we enter a two-story hacker workspace filled with Skydio parts in one stage or another of testing. In one area, an armful of blinking drones spin their cameras wildly, finding the limits of their new three-axis gimbal. In another area are rows of cheap Ikea motorized standing desks, many topped with giant TVs (they’re more cost-effective than monitors, Bry explains) to help the company’s AI coders see.

In one corner, there’s a set of accelerated testing chambers to see whether the drones can survive extreme heat or cold. And that’s just the office; a few doors down the street is Skydio’s actual “factory,” a miniature computerized assembly line with six drone building stations and a gauntlet of automated tests, including an industrial robot arm that swings a propeller-less Skydio 2 around at various angles to test that its cameras are working and closet-sized rooms where drones run through both real and simulated flight experiences. “We test every single drone that goes out,” says Bry. “We want to guarantee high quality.”

It’s there where we see how much more realistic the Skydio 2 has become as a product because of the fewer steps it takes to build. Before, the company had to solder dozens of circuits connected to a big (by drone standards) three-layer motherboard with its own heatsink and fan. That’s one of the reasons the Skydio R1’s frame was so large.

Now, Bry proudly holds up a single-layer board with all of the chips on one side and explains how the Skydio 2’s blue magnesium alloy frame acts as a heatsink to cool them all at once. The Skydio 2 also only needs six navigation cameras now instead of 12; with its 4K color sensors and 200-degree field of view, the new drone captures so much more visual data (45 megapixels, compared to 3 megapixels) that it doesn’t require camera-laden propeller guards anymore. It still doesn’t fold down like a Mavic — Skydio says the arms need to be rigid so that the cameras can precisely guide the craft — but from the hidden three-axis camera gimbal to the satisfying magnetic snap of the battery that doubles as its landing gear, the design seems elegant.

An hour later, in a nearby park, I’m flying the Skydio 2 for the first time — rather, the drone is flying with me as copilot. I’m using the new remote controller, but it’s clear who’s in charge: every time I send the Skydio 2 hurtling into a cluster of trees, the craft nimbly banks out of the way. I try again and again to crash it, throwing it up into the canopies of nearby trees where — I hope — the tiny twigs that could have defeated the original Skydio R1 might send it to its doom. (I actually crashed a Skydio R1 that way once.) No luck. The Skydio 2 dives underneath and finds a way through. That’s the tremendous difference between Skydio and, say, DJI’s obstacle avoidance: when you fly a Mavic toward an obstacle, it generally just stops.

As awed as I am, I’m not sure I actually like the feel of the controller. For one thing, Skydio isn’t hiding that it’s a rebranded Parrot Anafi pad, which feels a little cheap and hollow compared to the rest of the drone, despite the controller’s $150 price. Skydio’s autonomy also seemed a little overzealous in my early test, keeping me from threading the needle between trees I would have had no trouble threading through with any other drone. It’s not clear whether it’ll be that way at launch, but you won’t be able to turn autonomy off even if you’re skilled. Bry says safety is the priority, and — aside from some potential industrial customers who can turn on an “aggressive mode” to squeeze the Skydio into tighter spaces — it’s designed to keep a one-meter protective bubble around it at all times.

But when I finish an electric scooter ride with Skydio’s $150 Beacon remote in my pocket, a huge smile lights up my face.

The Beacon is a pill-shaped remote that helps the Skydio 2 do what it does best: go about your business while a flying camera follows your every move. It’s got a nifty air wand feature that uses 3-axis motion sensors so you can just wave in the direction you want the Skydio 2 to go. It has plus buttons to quickly fire up a selfie or engage different modes without using your phone. But the best part is a built-in GPS locator so the Skydio can find you even if its cameras lose track of you for a while. That was a problem with the Skydio R1, but I was actually able to put it to the test during my brief demo.

When I managed to leave the Skydio 2 stranded behind a chain-link fence, it was able to find its way out and catch up to me after I’d already zoomed away on my scooter. With a 1.5-kilometer range, Bry says the beacon is capable enough that the Skydio can do things like film you going through a long tunnel and emerging on the other side.

There’s an awful lot we weren’t able to test in an hour at a park, of course, and I wonder whether Skydio can truly fulfill the demand for a practically crash-proof $1,000 drone if it lives up to all the promises we heard during our tour. For instance, the company claims its new 12.3-megapixel 1/2.3-inch Sony camera with a 20mm equivalent f/2.8 lens can capture 100 Mbps 4K footage that’s as good as or better than the competition. That’ll take a lot more testing to prove out. You can watch our video for some unedited sample clips, though.

For now, early adopters are going to have to choose whether to wait for the reviews or reserve a spot in line. The company is expecting that quantities will be limited, and you’ll need to put some money down. Skydio is taking preorders starting today, October 1st, for a $100 deposit, with drones scheduled to ship in November at the earliest.

I always wait for the reviews, on principle, but I’m sorely tempted this time.

You can find the Skydio 2’s full spec sheet here.

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