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Skydio: $1k Skydio 2 drone launch takes aim at DJI (skydio.com)
102 points by mtb2718 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

I'm an autonomy engineer at Skydio, and while there are limits to what I can reveal publicly, I'm happy to answer any questions people have.

Can you just go fly your drone, or do you have to register your drone and so forth?

I returned the DJI because you had to make an account and register your drone before you could fly with the controller. Additionally after I returned it, a friend showed me the appalling snooping they do on their customers and flights.

To be fair, there are strict FAA rules that tons of people completely disregard. It seems like it'd be in the companies interest to do its best to ensure their market doesn't collapse due to further regulation.

Seems like it could be an attempt to understand and police some of that activity rather than "appalling snooping".

Do you have any plans to be more developer friendly? Do you plan to give some sort of API to make custom development? It can bring lots of opportunities to devs if it provides some sort of hackability.

We are working with various commercial and industrial users, but don't currently have anything to announce regarding a consumer accessible API (partially so people don't do stuff like make weapons). If you think you have a really good application, please get in touch.


I've been wondering about the broad lack of programmability in commercially available drones (something that seems like an obvious feature). Would you say this is the main motivation, or is this just the motivation for Skydio?

That comment was meant mostly in jest as a response to avn2109's comment below. I can't comment on Skydio's future product plans, and certainly don't know anything about other manufacturers.


it'll be a while yet before someone mounts a usable weapon system on a 700g drone. you might be able to carry a couple bottle rockets and fire them in the general direction of your target, I guess.

Please don't do that.

What is your policy towards avoiding restricted airspace? If flying autonomously the drone enters a restricted airspace (without specific user direction to do so) could Skydio be hold responsible?

Any user (or AI!) sharing the airspace should carefully read and follow FAA rules https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/ or the local laws, a point that is seldom mentioned by some sellers.

This is one of the reasons we don't let the drone keep following for very long if the connection is lost to the phone or beacon controlling it. As a person operating the drone, it's your job to know local and national regulations and follow them.

So, no geofencing or accesing NOTAMs, etc. in the AI? Regarding the second point I wholeheartedly agree, but I'm concerned when instead of the stern warning that flying these machines requires a good deal of study and preflight preparation to avoid endangering others or breaking the law, one constantly sees statements such as flying should require about the same minimum skill as using a smartphone camera (i.e. none), a three year old can operate it, etc.

Good point, I added a note to that post. We do have a safety training that you have to complete in the app before flying, and various support resources [1]. I think it's possible for drones to be safe, fun, and non-disruptive at the same time.

[1] https://support.skydio.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000586653-Sk...

This might be for a future release, but you can consider geofencing the drone with maps pre-loaded, so that even if it doesn't have connectivity, it can still automatically avoid the no-fly zones.

Out of curiosity, how do you handle avoiding long thin objects (cables, power lines)?

Is this something that modern drones can handle now, or something that requires careful flying?

Thin objects are really hard, and are probably the single area we have made the most software progress since the R1, especially very thin twigs and branches (it's still not perfect, fly carefully). We completely rebuilt the stereo vision algorithms to try to handle those better, basically by incorporating semantic knowledge (recognizing what is a tree, or a power line) in addition to traditional stereo vision techniques. To my knowledge, our systems are significantly more advanced than even the state of the art in academic research papers, so I would be impressed if there are any other drones that match our performance today.

Nice, great job! I'm glad to know that those hard objects are handled, I'll probably put in a pre order today.

It appears to not have a 3-axis gimbal for the front camera, in the promo photos. Yet the demo footage is stable. How is video stabilization accomplished? Does it use the 4K cameras all around the airframe for the actual footage and not just navigation inputs?

We have a 3-axis gimbal, the footage comes from the front camera.

Pics: https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/1/20892377/skydio-2-drone-a...

Thank you for the pics! That is a very unique gimbal design :-)

Hi! Joining the party late, but why did you guys opt for the two propellers up/two propellers down design?

I've never flown a drone before. How easy would it be for me to learn?

Take a look at the warranty. If the drone crashes, it's our fault not yours. In that sense, flying Skydio 2 should require about the same minimum skill as using a smartphone camera (i.e. none). We say a three year old can operate it, but that's not a hard minimum ;)

That said, there is always a skill ladder to climb if you want jaw-dropping professional footage, where understanding lighting, composition, editing, etc. benefit the quality of what you can make. The drone is pretty good at autonomously picking good shots, but there's also a lot of manual control possible, especially with the controller.

Edit: Also, don't forget about local regulations wherever you fly. You are still legally the pilot, even if the drone's software can make that easier.

Depends on what kind of drone. Flying a FPV / racing drone requires some skill (but not much if you've played games). Flying acrobatic drones in third person (eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duHCDwH9G2M) requires a lot of skill.

Compared to those, flying drones like those from DJI require almost no skill. These drones do some form of obstacle avoidance on their own. You basically have to tell them where to fly and they will go there. Some are smarter than others in how they execute the manoeuvres, but some common sense will get you a long way with those.

It looks like the point of this product is that it flys itself.

Hobbiest, here. While these types of products are very easy to learn how to control, I would discourage anyone from suggesting that they "fly itself" because it's that type of thinking that encourages newcomers to the hobby to ignore learning about safety and following regulations. They only fly itself to a degree, you still need to be diligent and they can be dangerous machines.

Congrats, it seems an impressive product! The AI part shouldn't be easy to design.

Can you provide a discount coupon for us nice folks on HN? simone dot brunozzi at gmail


How much of your product is manufactured here in the US: parts, software? I saw the hiring post and it appears you're Redwood city based.

All of our development (software, mechanical, electrical, marketing, etc.) is done at our headquarters in Redwood City, CA.

The parts come from all over the world, I don't know the exact breakdown of country of origin. Assembly, testing, and shipping all happens from Redwood City. Eventually, it might become necessary to move some of that work overseas, but we really enjoy the rapid development and iteration speed that comes from having the assembly line across the street from the engineers.

Is libargus the way to go with the tx1 cameras? I was using nvcamerasrc but have had some bugs I can’t understand.

Can it be used for shooting surf footage? Over water and such

Yes, it works just fine over water. If you are going to use it for surfing, I would recommend taking a beacon in a waterproof bag of some sort, just to have the extra range and make sure it doesn't lose you. Keep in mind that the warranty does not apply to water damage, so fly at your own risk.

Also, make sure you can get back to land when the battery runs out, or that you're really comfortable hand-catching it.

Edit: I have been informed that you can manually set a "home point" on land to return to when the battery gets low. Also, apparently the surfing footage we captured was done with a pilot on shore with the joysticks as a range extender, and the subject being tracked purely visually (no beacon involved)

Why do the front props point down?

It's really hard to see "through" propellers with a camera, and we need to mount our top cameras on the front arms. That's one of the examples of why we think that great autonomy is possible only if it's designed in from day 1.

Can it follow a motorcycle up the Tail of the Dragon from Deal's Gap to the overlook?

Want to send me one so we can find out? ;-)

This is an astounding engineering achievement. I love how they were able to do all this autonomy with fisheye lenses -- the only navigation cameras are pointing up and down!

It's incredibly rare that a company is on the cutting edge of both software and hardware. There are hardly any other companies in this category. I'd say:

- SpaceX (the control software for landing is outstanding)

- Apple (although their software isn't the best, i.e. Siri, or how late to the game they were with night sight)

- Not Tesla (hardware is incredible, auto pilot is struggling)

- Not Amazon (Kindle is great, but not a remarkable engineering achievement)

Looks really cool, but I'm skeptical of all the demo videos and whether or not a person or software flew the drone. Would like to see some independent reviews of their following capability.

TheVerge video has some good footage of their reporter testing out the functionality https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/1/20892377/skydio-2-drone-a...

edit: I work at Skydio -- all the footage you are seeing is real and filmed entirely on Skydio 2. In our launch video each clip is labeled with "Flying Itself - No Pilot" where it is totally autonomous and "Piloted with AI Assist" when a pilot is using Skydio Controller combined with on-board obstacle avoidance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imt2qZ7uw1s

The Skydio R1 was by far the leader in collision avoidance and follow capability. Flitetest did an independent review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG_PMF27tDE

These guys are really sharp, I met a few of them when they worked on Google's Project Wing in the early days.


I think even if it is not that great it still beats DJI from a price point and technical specs perspective.

It is always good for DJI to have some competition. They have been spending too much time going after GoPro cameras instead of advancing their quadcopters.

DJI makes multiple drones at multiple price points. I think not making it fold-able is going to hurt them. I know some people use their drone to follow them, but a lot of people just to fly their drone. I don't see why they would have any advantage in that space. I feel this probably cool technology without a good market fit.

I think it may just be the case that they heavily culled the shots they had. Some of the "automated" movement does end up looking too cinematic.

Yes, we pick the cool looking stuff for publishing, but the bigger factor is that we really do program the AI to fly in cinematic ways. Because it has a full 3D model of the world, we can actually model in software a lot of what cinematography traditionally does manually.

I've been keeping a casual eye on drones for a few years, and find it surprising that the flight time always stays between 20 and 30 minutes. Despite all the advances in every other department, the flight time has not changed. Why is that? I would have expected drones capable of flying for over an hour by now.

Energy density improvements in lithium batteries (the biggest factor in flight time) have been fairly gradual. There are drones that can fly longer, but they don't use batteries. There are a few drones that use the frame as a hydrogen tank, and can fly for about 4 hours. (https://edgy.app/hydrogen-powered-drone-hycopter-flight-4-ho...)

Both the force of gravity and the energy density of lithium-ion remain more or less unchanged.

Expect that to jump to ~40-50 minutes in the next year or so as some new battery tech comes to market. I've personally seen an endurance-test video of a small quadcopter with almost an hour flight time using prototypes of the new battery tech.

looks cool and with all the human rights abuses coming out of China, I'd rather throw my money at a homegrown company. when do you think the final version will be out?

What's available for preorder now is the "final version" of the Skydio 2, and we expect to be shipping in November. We are limited in how fast we can assemble them, so if you want to get the drone by the holidays, preordering now is a very good idea.

eh? where do you think the parts for this come from?

gotta start somewhere!


Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I am very glad to see an American drone company in response to DJI's dominance of the consumer market.

Is there any way to get the 3d geometry out to create 3d models of things like buildings or rooms?

Looking for something similar to Matterport, but flyable.

We have a partnership with and support for Dronedeploy, which provides tools for many basic scanning uses. If you have an application that needs more detailed integration with the autonomy in the Skydio system, get in touch.


Somewhat related, any plans for integration with VR headsets?

This could either be first-person flying, or the generation of stereo-correct video (using offset cameras) for later viewing.

Whoah. If not, let's hope it can be hacked to log all that.

"Utilizing 45 megapixels of visual sensing from six 200 degree color cameras, Skydio 2 can see everything in every direction with unprecedented resolution and clarity." - Just to clarify, that means the Jetson TX2 can capture and process data from all 6 cameras, simultaneously, at 4k each? At what framerate is that too out of interest?

It's a little bit complicated to answer this, because (as with all engineering) everything is tradeoffs. While I'm pretty sure the Tegra could in theory collect and process all of that data, doing so would load the processor and memory bandwidth enough that we couldn't run any the other algorithms we need to fly safely. In practice, that means that the framerates we process depend on exactly what the vehicle is trying to do and how it is moving.

In other words, you're unlikely to bump into something you're moving away from, which is why humans don't have eyes on the back of our heads either.

This has eyes mounted everywhere, but I presume it dedicates its visual cortex (to stretch the analogy a bit) to the ones facing in the directions that matter.

Thanks a lot for your reply!, yeah I was thinking 4k * 6 cameras is an awful lot of data to process.

The "Navigation Camera System" section lists these details: 30fps from each of the 6 4k navigation cameras.

The R1 (first gen) propellers were protected by a plastic shield around them. Here they are exposed. What happens if the drone hits a tree or some branches? Won't the propellers easily break?

nice. i pre-ordered one so that it can follow me around while i do my hero activities. hopefully it plays a soundtrack like in the video so i can be properly represented. i never thought i'd want one of these but now i do. great job. i like when a marketing dept is as good as the engineering dept (or vice versa if you come from other POV).

i was going to give a smack down about how there is no information about legal and safety issues around drones, and while it isn't on the front page it was very, very easy to find.


I wonder what autopilot this uses? One of the open source ones or a custom implementation?

A lot of our systems are built on open source software (the drone runs Linux), but the core algorithms for flying the drone are custom and very state of the art. If you want to know more, we're always hiring.

If you read through the tech specs everything is developed in house probably using some form of SLAM using the 6 cams - appears to run on TX2 chip

Super cool. Preordered and looks well-worth it IMO.

This seems like an ad. Title reads like one and link just points to homepage. This is the poster's only submission.

cc dang

Full disclosure: this is a friend's startup. Not intended to be an advert. We've worked together on computer vision problems in the past, and there is some serious tech under the hood here. Happy to change the title if you have a better suggestion.

You may want to add a "Show HN:" to the title

The home page has detailed information about the technology, UX, and full specs.

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