Skydio, a California-based drone start-up founded by MIT researchers, has developed an unmanned aerial vehicle with 13 embedded cameras that can target and follow you all while avoiding obstacles in environments as dense as forests or warehouses. We recently reported on MIT’s NanoMap technology, which used a drone position’s uncertainty to its advantage in regards to smart obstacle avoidance while maintaining speed. Skydio’s R1 drone seems to be echoing similar capabilities.
According to Tech Crunch, this self-flying camera of sorts is both user-friendly and works extremely well. Once you’ve opened the Skydio app, you're welcomed by the drone’s point of view on your smartphone screen, which will allow you to tap on someone within that field of view and select your target. The R1 is apparently quite sophisticated when it comes to distinguishing between shapes, colors, subjects in general. Once you’ve designated your subject, it’ll begin following and record.
The main onboard camera here boasts 4K fidelity at 30fps, by the way, providing for high-quality footage. Regarding the R1’s tech specs, the drone seems to have a solid foundation, especially when you keep the autonomous following and obstacle avoidance in mind. It can reach speeds of up to 25 mph and has a battery life of 16 minutes on a full charge. The footage, meanwhile, is stored on an onboard 64 GB SD card. All of this is processed by a 256-core Nvidia TX1 processor, an expensive onboard processor reportedly already implemented in numerous self-driving vehicles.
While this all sounds pretty exciting, let’s see what it actually looks like in action. Here's mountain biker Stacey Aguilar traversing a pretty dense, forested area all the while Skydio's R1 follows and records her in 4K.
As you’d expect with a camera-drone designed to track and follow a subject, there are a few different flying modes available. The default “follow” mode will do exactly that, while “side,” “orbit,” and “lead” will take care of their respective eponymous assigned perspectives.
Reportedly, there’s a “stadium” mode offered here, as well, which is pretty exciting. As someone who’s been watching soccer games for close to 30 years, I’ve always wondered at what point sports events will be filmed and televised with a more visceral, engaged point of view. With the advent of affordable, capable drone technology, “stadium” mode may be a microcosm of things to come. While this option is designed to capture sports, it’s yet unclear what sort of algorithms or rules it follows to do so. Skydio’s Tennis promo doesn’t tell us much, except that we might someday see events like this captured in a more interesting manner.
Here comes the bad news: the R1 costs $2,499. Skydio’s CEO, Adam Bry, is aware that this isn’t an appealing price point for newcomers to the world of UAVs. “It’s clearly not a mainstream price point,” he told Tech Crunch. “We’re very much a technology company that has this core tech. But there’s a clear path for using the core tech in a number of ways,” he added. In that sense, it seems Skydio isn’t too focused on recreational consumers quite yet and is instead considering how to market this drone to professional, content-creating audio-visual clientele. In any case, this thing looks pretty damn cool, and would be at the top of my list were it not for such a steep price point.