A New Kind of Follow Me Drone: Skydio’s Scout Takes Subject Tracking to another Level
BY Zacc Dukowitz6 September 2022
Skydio recently launched Scout, a flight skill that makes it much easier to track moving subjects.
Scout works by letting you fly at a set height and distance from the remote control, or from the Skydio Beacon if you’re moving while the drone is in the air. The distance between the drone and the RC is established with GPS, so you don’t need to visually lock onto the tracked subject. (It’s important to note that Scout needs a strong GPS signal to work.)
Scout allows pilots to:
- Track the GPS position of their Enterprise Controller or Beacon
- Adjust the drone’s position and the camera’s orientation while tracking a subject at a fixed distance
- Focus on the live video feed to better assess the surrounding environment, instead of focusing on keeping the drone in the air
Skydio is already known for its work with autonomy, making it possible to launch a drone and have it track a subject without the pilot needing to know very much about how to fly.
But Scout takes the usability of that autonomy to a new level, providing operations with a flying camera that follows them at a set distance, leaving pilots free to monitor the drone’s visual feed and the surrounding area.
Who Is Scout For?
For now, Scout is only available on the Skydio X2E and on Skydio’s 2/2+ Enterprise drones.
This is telling, since the X2E is made primarily for public safety and defense use cases, and public safety is also a target sector for the 2/2+ Enterprise division.
Here are some key use cases for Scout:
When pursuing a fleeing suspect on foot, Scout could potentially help a police officer maintain a live visual feed of the pursuit while focusing on the chase. This use may be a little far fetched just now, but you could imagine a team radioing instruction to the officer in pursuit based on what the drone is seeing, and helping the officer move tactically to catch up to the suspect.
This approach could also be used in a car pursuit, though that use would bring with it some regulatory and safety considerations.
Scout could also help track the movements of a K9 being used to follow a suspect (as shown above).
Using the Beacon, the drone can follow the dog, giving those on the ground immediate information on where it goes to help them track it and find the suspect the dog is pursuing.
Following a convoy of vehicles is one of the top use cases for Scout.
As the convoy drives along, the drone can provide constant aerial data surveilling the surrounding territory, providing those in the convoy or those supporting it from a distance with enhanced situational awareness to help avoid an ambush and respond quickly in the case of an attack.
Search and Rescue
Scout can also be used to have a drone maintain a preset distance from a pilot who is actively looking for a missing person during a search and rescue mission.
This ongoing aerial feed could greatly enhance the situational awareness of the team on the ground while freeing the pilot up to focus on moving over harsh terrain, looking at the live feed as needed as they go.
Although Scout will primarily be used for these types of tactical situations at first, we can also imagine it being used to track athletes doing parkour or other kinds of extreme sports, like skiing down a rugged mountain—activities that would take us back to the early days of Skydio, when the company’s main focus was on making the best selfie drone in the world.
Watch this video to learn more about how Scout can be used by defense and public safety personnel:
Here are some of the features that come along with Scout’s ability to track a subject at a set distance and height.
Using the Skydio Beacon to Choose Your Subject
The Skydio Beacon is a GPS tracking device with limited manual steering capabilities, the ability to start and stop Scout, and a Return to Home function. When using the Beacon, the pilot has the option of locking Beacon controls on a moving subject to avoid the risk of accidental button inputs.
Skydio Beacon allows the Skydio 2+ or another Skydio drone to track a subject other than the person holding the controller (i.e., the pilot).
This subject could be another person, a vehicle, or even a dog, as noted above. Big picture, the Beacon provides a greater range of applications for subject tracking by allowing the pilot to be in one place with the controller and the drone to track a different subject of the pilot’s choosing.
Ignore Subject Height
Pilots can use this feature to have the drone either ignore or react to changes in the subject’s height.
Here are the two settings for the Ignore Subject Height feature:
- Disabled. The drone incorporates vertical changes in the altitude of the tracked GPS position. This is the default setting.
- Enabled. The drone ignores vertical changes in the altitude of the tracked GPS position, maintaining the set altitude unless the pilot commands the throttle.
Enabling Range Limit
By toggling the Enabling the Range Limit feature on, the pilot can choose the maximum range the drone can fly, using the Maximum Range slider to indicate this distance.
The integration of the Skydio Enterprise Controller and the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) app allows pilots to monitor their entire Skydio fleet and enables live streaming for multiple parties, so everyone on a team can see what the drone sees.
ATAK provides geospatial information about all drones and controllers in a fleet, providing enhanced situational awareness in the field.