A quick chat with CEO Adam Bry about whats next and ethics
If youve been eagerly awaiting the day when self-flying drone startup Skydio becomes a true competitor to DJI, you might taken todays announcement poorly. You might have assumed that after two impressive drones that didnt quite fulfill their full potential, Skydios decision to build its next flying flagship camera exclusively for the enterprise and military markets meant it was done with consumers entirely.
But Skydio CEO Adam Bry tells The Verge hes just getting started there are more consumer drones on the way.
We have more products coming in that market that were excited about, reveals Bry, saying the timing was simply right to expand into the enterprise market, too. In both markets, he says, the goal isnt to try to beat DJI by copying DJI, but rather to build drones that can automatically do things which currently require an expert pilot to pull off.
Being able to follow you is something an expert pilot could do; being able to inspect a house is something an an expert pilot can do; being able to inspect a bridge is something an expert pilot can do. How do we put that in software so anyone can benefit from it? Bry asks, rhetorically.
Skydio sees itself building specific AI skills to do each of those things, starting with a few specific examples that use the drones cameras to first map out the area around itself, then automatically take a series of high-resolution images that can be stitched together to create a scan of a house, bridge, or other facilities for inspection:
Bry says he sees opportunities for skills outside of enterprise, too particularly in the cinematography world, where operating a camera also requires expert skills, and where flying cameras could theoretically make camera moves that are all but impossible for cinematographers on the ground.
But he also thinks a different business model may be the way forward whether they pick the new folding Skydio X2 or the consumer-grade Skydio 2, enterprise customers will be paying for a subscription service to these new skills rather than simply buying off-the-shelf drones.
Banking on Made in the USA
If this idea of skill-driven-drone-upgrades sounds familiar, you might be thinking of promising drone startup 3D Robotics pitch from several years ago, before it got edged out by DJIs then-quickly-advancing, reliable, and relatively affordable line of drones.
But history might not repeat itself. Now, governments and industries have become more wary of China-made products to the point the US Department of the Interior grounded its DJI-made fleet. Skydio is betting its made-in-the-USA pedigree will help it get contracts with enterprise and military customers that DJI cant touch right now. In fact, the company already has contracts with the US Air Force, Army, and DEA, reports Wired.
That doesnt mean Skydio is ready to become a weapon system provider, though, or necessarily help police surveil citizens. The companys new Engagement and Responsible Use Principles explicitly state that Skydio wont put weapons on its drones and is opposed to fully automated weapons in general and Bry tells me Skydio would not work with a company that plans to put weapons on its drones, either.
We believe drones should be involved in emergency response situations, not active surveillance, and I think thats a pretty clear line, he says, adding that Skydio plans to be involved as it can in policymaking around autonomous drones, too. You ship a product out there, you wash your hands of it… thats not our approach, says Bry.
That said, the company is already working with at least one police department in Chula Vista, California, and its not clear how it would know if its drones were being abused to surveil protesters or other citizens. For now, Bry is focused on positive use cases, like how drones could theoretically serve as a sort of flying body camera, and perhaps how they could let more objective observers (like, say, a police captain) do a better job of assessing a situation at a distance.
Bry isnt saying how much the Skydio X2 will cost yet, or what we can expect from future consumer drones. (Does the X2s newfound folding ability mean we can finally get a pocket, purse or messenger-friendly folding follow-me drone? No comment.) He also wont say whether therell be a way to use the Skydios new 360-degree situational view with a VR or AR headset only that Im on the right track. For now, that features limited to an equirectangular projection (see below for an example) on the new Skydio Enterprise Controllers built-in screen or HDMI out.
And no, therell be no way to pair the upcoming Skydio Enterprise Controller, even if you could afford it, with todays consumer-grade Skydio 2. If you want a better consumer-grade self-flying drone than the Skydio 2 and the tradeoffs that come with its three different control schemes, youll just have to wait.
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