More than Just a Selfie Drone—How the Skydio 2 Is Becoming a Go-To Tool for Commercial Drone Applications
BY Zacc Dukowitz11 June 2020
The Skydio 2 was so popular when it first hit markets that it sold out the first day it went on sale, in early October of 2019.
Since then the company has been working through a backlog of orders—not necessarily a bad thing, but not ideal, either.
Photo credit: Skydio
But when the coronavirus hit California in early March, where Skydio is based and where the Skydio 2 is made, production went from behind to nonexistent, with its supply chain broken and its ability to manufacture new drones grinding to a halt.
After three months offline, production of the Skydio 2 has resumed, so we wanted to take a closer look at this unique autonomous drone and how it’s being used in various industries throughout the world.
How Skydio Took the Autonomous Selfie Drone from SciFi Scam to Real Commodity
Before we look at commercial applications for the Skydio 2, let’s go back in time to the release of the R1, the first version of Skydio’s autonomous drone.
You may remember that Skydio’s first major promotional video for the R1, which they released in early 2018, features a guy running through the woods doing parkour.
In the intro, the video claims the footage was captured by a drone flying autonomously, in one continuous shot. It’s almost two and half years later now, and the video is still pretty impressive:
When Skydio first put out this video, it both blew people away and made them deeply skeptical. Was this technology real, people wondered?
At the time, the drone industry had a hangover when it came to impressive selfie drones. A year before, in early 2017, Lily Robotics had raised $34 million in pre-orders for its selfie drone solely on the basis of an inspiring video they had released on YouTube, featuring incredible action shots.
The video garnered well over ten million views, and fueled a huge number of preorders. But it turned out the video was a fake.
In the end, Lily was sued, quickly dissolved, and even wound up raided by the police. So when Skydio released a video one year later featuring a selfie drone that looked too good to be true, people were skeptical. Fool me once, right?
But it turned out that the technology was real.
The R1 really could fly autonomously through the woods, filming you as you did parkour—or rode a mountain bike, or skied, or whatever other outdoor activity you might want to shoot.
Our earliest experience with the R1 was at the New York City Film Festival in 2018, where it was featured in a demo at the Liberty Science Center. The demo was strange and beautiful, with the R1 flying around as a dancer performed on a huge staircase.
More Than Just a Selfie Drone—Commercial Applications for the Skydio 2
Like the R1, the Skydio 2 has been commonly promoted as a selfie drone. That is, a drone for people doing things for fun, not work.
In the Skydio 2 promotional video shown below, we see a guy riding a dirt bike through the woods, a guy running down a beach to the edge of the water, and a guy riding a mountain biking. All fun things, with not a commercial application in sight.
But despite being a great selfie drone, the Skydio 2 is also being used broadly for commercial work.
When we look at the commercial drone landscape, we generally see specific drones made for specific lines of work.
For instance, in promotional materials for DJI’s new Matrice 300, it’s clear that the drone is made primarily for work in public safety and inspections. Some commercial drones, like Flyability’s Elios 2, which sits in a cage for flights in confined spaces, are even more use-specific.
But the Skydio 2 turns this rule on its head.
With obstacle avoidance technology that allows for flying by untrained pilots in difficult situations, the Skydio 2 is a tool many industries are starting to adopt for various applications.
Here are the two main benefits to using the Skydio 2 for commercial applications:
- Ease of use. Because of its autonomous and obstacle avoidance tech, the Skydio 2 can be flown by novice pilots. This means that if you want quick aerial data in a variety of commercial scenarios, you can put the Skydio 2 in the air and get it without needing to have a highly trained pilot on hand.
- Obstacle avoidance. Because the Skydio 2 has high-quality obstacle avoidance and autonomous flight features, you can fly it closer to objects to get better visual data than you could with other drones, which makes it a good tool for a variety of commercial scenarios.
Here are a few of the commercial sectors and applications where the Skydio 2 is currently being used.
Police officers and firefighters both run into situations where they could use quick aerial data, and the ability to simply put a drone in the air and see what’s happening can be incredibly helpful.
Photo credit: Skydio
We spoke to Fritz Reber, Skydio’s Head of Public Safety Integration, a little while back for an article on U.S. drone companies working in public safety, and he shared these examples of real stories from the Skydio 2 being used in the field:
Gathering information following a car accident
“There was a car overturned in an area off the side of the road that was inaccessible by foot and it was unclear if there were any victims inside. We needed to be able to fly down at ground level and see what was going on, but there were trees, wires, and other obstacles that would have required a highly experienced drone pilot. The Skydio 2’s self-flying feature allowed us to avoid all the debris and get a look inside the car, at which point we could see that there wasn’t anyone in there and confirm that no one was in danger.”
Finding a hidden suspect
“There was a female who had an ice pick and had threatened some people. We suspected she was in the backyard but due to trees, overhangs, and patio covers, we couldn’t see what was happening on the ground with the drone we had in the air. Rather than go in with a dog or on foot, we swapped that drone out for the Skydio 2, which let us fly through some power lines, below the tree line, and along the ground at about head height, allowing us to clear each area before sending in people.”
Because the Skydio 2 can fly quite close to an object without the risk of crashing, it’s being used more and more in inspection scenarios.
Last year, a partnership was formed between Skydio and DroneDeploy to leverage Skydio’s drone technology for inspections and the other commercial applications DroneDeploy supports.
The DroneDeploy solution with the Skydio 2 is a leap forward in drone mapping and asset inspection. This combination offers advanced autonomous flight which allows us to capture an unparalleled level of detail with enhanced flight safety.
– Alvin Rentsch, Transformation Architect, California Resources Corporation
The DroneDeploy partnership has also helped commercial operators leverage the Skydio 2 for mapping, as shown in the video below.
As commercial drone adoption continues to grow, we’ll probably hear a lot more about the Skydio 2 as a go-to option for scenarios that call for quick aerial data in congested or challenging flying environments. And we’ll also probably start to see it used in a lot of new scenarios—some of which may not have even been imagined yet.
Want to learn more about how Skydio supports commercial drone applications? Check out the Enterprise page of the Skydio website.
Know of other commercial applications for the Skydio 2? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum.