Redwood City-based Skydio unveiled Skydio 2 two weeks ago, a $2,000 autonomous drone that can track objects and people while traveling upwards of 30 miles per hour. It pitched the quadcopter as a recreational rather than an enterprise product, but in a hint at its upmarket ambitions, Skydio this morning launched Skydio 2 Dock. It’s a self-contained, weatherproof charging base station for Skydio 2 that enables persistent operations while fitting in a carry-on suitcase.
“The concept of a ‘drone in a box’ has long offered the promise of fully automated data collection for myriad enterprise applications from repeated mapping of construction sites, to security patrols of sensitive areas, to keeping drones on call … for emergency situations,” wrote Skydio in a blog post. “However, nothing has come close to delivering on those promises. Existing solutions are massively complex, expensive, and impractical.”
The Skydio 2 Dock aims to solve this dilemma with a weatherproof design that can be assembled in “minutes.” It packs an Ethernet- and Wi-Fi-connected computer for data processing and a motorized door on which the Skydio 2 can land, as well as a charging station with contact pins that draws power from a standard AC outlet or 12V DC power. (The pins interface with a special aftermarket Skydio 2 battery.)
Over the next few months, Skydio says it’ll work to deploy the Skydio 2 Dock with first responders and build skills that support structure inspection and other tasks in factories, warehouses, and industrial environments. Presumably, it’ll reveal the Skydio 2 Dock’s price tag a bit beforehand.
“As drones gain the ability to constantly work in the background, entirely new use cases become possible,” continued Skydio. “We look forward to partnering with our first customers and regulators to roll this product out responsibly.”
Companies like AT&T use drones for maintenance inspections and to assist in natural disaster zones, and dozens of local government agencies, like the San Diego Fire Department (SDFD), have begun actively deploying drones as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aerial systems integration pilot program. In May, the FAA chose 10 winners from a pool of more than 160 applicants interested in reimagining how drones can be used by governments and private industry. Meanwhile, telepresence drone piloting company Cape and others in the industry have begun to partner with first responders like the Chula Vista Police Department and San Diego Fire Department for field tests.
By way of refresher, Skydio 2 sports a primary camera that can record 4K footage up to 60 frames per second to a removable SD card. Six additional camera sensors make up the Autonomy System, which can track up to 10 objects of interest while avoiding trees, walls, street lamps, and other obstacles from any direction. That’s thanks to nine custom algorithms running on an Nvidia Tegra X2 chip that update a 3D point cloud a million points per second.
Skydio 2 benefits from Skydio’s recently formed partnership with DroneDeploy, the startup behind the drone and UAV mapping platform of the same name, which Skydio says will allow it to more reliably navigate “challenging” environments for close-up recording. For the uninitiated, San Francisco-based DroneDeploy’s tools let commercial operators inspect and automatically save drone images and flight data. As of June 2018, DroneDeploy’s community of 30,000 users had collectively mapped more than 30 million acres globally.
Skydio 2 is scheduled to ship in November with limited supply for 2019, alongside a controller and beacon (which retail for $149 each).
Skydio has rivals in H3dynamics, Skysense, and Airbotics, which are similarly developing drone-in-a-box solutions. And it competes indirectly with DJI’s Mavic 2 Enterprise, a solution tailor-made for firefighting, law enforcement, emergency response, and inspection of power lines, cell towers, and bridges. There’s also Paris-based Parrot’s recently announced Anafi Thermal, a camera-packing drone designed for rescuers, architects, and the energy industry.