A few days ago we announced the announcement of Skydio 2, drone of the company that bears the same name. Of American origin, Skydio is 10 years old, but it really became known after the launch of Skydio R1, its first commercial drone launched last year. Including, we already did a text article and a video about her for drawing a lot of attention with regard to autonomous flight deviating from objects during the journey.
The Skydio R1 effectively brought autonomous flight (ie diverting objects on the path following a "dot" (person, car, etc.)) to a level far above anything on the consumer market. However, it was not popular, and the main reason was certainly the price – $ 2,500 buying in the US. Adding in the fees, the final price is around $ 2,750 on average.
Specialized freestanding ships, it represents what we can expect from these aircraft in the future.
For comparison, $ 2,500 is twice as much as a Mavic 2 Zoom, and although it deviates from just about everything and brings a 30fps 4K camera, the R1 has more limitations – only 16 minutes low flight range and smartphone-only control are two. from them. With this, the flight distance is no more than 200 meters, which makes it a very specific drone to fly close to the driver and greatly limits the niche of interest.
With the release of Skydio 2, the scenario changes a lot and puts the company drone as a model to beat in various specifications, as well as putting a strain on DJI that she never felt. Certainly, at least in specs, the Chinese company now has a very strong competitor with good growth potential overnight, but logically unmatched when it comes to sales, as it will take years for a company to get closer. from DJI if that is ever going to happen.
Even with the good specs of Skydio 2, taking DJI's market in the medium term is impossible
Standalone: technology that does not rely on commands to function, acting independently
As highlights, the Skydio 2 drone comes even better than the previous version compared to its biggest feature – autonomously flying away from objects. The company even said that the drone can be given to children and that if they can hit it and break it, it will win the repair for free. If you can't fix it, it gives you a new one. Just kidding?
And you know who does the work of standalone processing calculations: a Nvidia Tegra X2 chip, a benchmark in the market and used even in the first versions of Tesla cars.
NVIDIA Tegra X2 and Programming
Autonomous for a car, drone, robot, or anything that needs to interact and make quick "decisions" is to analyze a lot of data and variables before you know what to do. And this has two crucial points: the first is hardware that can do many calculations very quickly, because one second more will make a difference. Therefore, the processor is crucial. If it's not really fast and good, it simply won't be possible for the other party to work.
And the other part is programming, because there is absolutely no point in having good hardware if it is not used properly. Just give you a race car for those who can't drive, a full-featured smartphone for those who only know how to use WhatsApp, or a powerful next-generation computer for office-only applications. Anyway, nothing more than some silly comparatives to show that the hardware needs good software for the perfect marriage.
On the other hand, it's no good idea and advanced programming logic if the hardware, in this case the drone, can't calculate all the data to decide what to do. So Skydio needed a high-performance processor, and nothing better than betting on one that is already well-known in this market.
Fast processing by analyzing different situations, delivering something never before seen in drones, far ahead of any other consumer solution.
That's where Nvidia comes in with its Tegra line processors. On Skydio R1, Tegra X1 was used, and on the new Skydio 2 of course there was an update to the latest version, Tegra X2. With this line of processors, Skydio has solved one important issue: It has performance for its software, which is the other side to making it possible to achieve standalone flight at the level that the company's drones have.
6 4k cameras analyzing everything
Skydio CEO says it was not so easy to introduce the six navigation cameras …
The work of capturing the entire scenario is done by no less than six 4K cameras, yes, plus a specific camera for photos and videos. It's this camera combo that captures the environment around the drone and plays it for the software to analyze. After this process, the system makes a decision to find the best way to follow the selected point, in this case a person, dog, etc.
The company noted that Skydio 2 runs nine custom deep networks to create a 3D model of the environment with refresh rate of over 1 million points per second. This way, the drone can identify up to 10 objects at a time and dodge obstacles with speeds up to 60km / h.
In the video below you can see how the drone sees the scenery through one of the cameras used for analysis. The rest is done by software and logically by hardware to deliver a quick response in decision making.
Still on Skydio 2's standalone feature, one of the big changes is the new Deep Learning based depth perception algorithm rather than more conventional stereo techniques – the Skydio R1 used stereo depth perception with 12 VGA cameras. The latter, as Skydio CEO Adam Bry explains, has good results in simple scenes, but is beginning to have problems in environments with repeated structures or surfaces without texture.
"What people do is combine understanding of the contextual scene with photometric information – when we look at a scene, we know what things are and generally how the world is structured around us. And the combination of that information means that people and animals essentially have a perfect depth perception based only on vision. We have created a deep learning algorithm that mimics that (…). " – Adam Bry.
4K 60FPS camera and more
But a drone needs more than "just" to fly autonomously to be successful, and the company has added a number of improvements over the previous model. An example is the 3-axis gilbal camera system that supports 4K resolution at 60fps at 100 Mbps – this is the first drone of its size to bring this number of frames per second at 4K resolution at this bit rate.
The sensor used is a 12.3MP 1 / 2.3 inch Sony IMX577, controlled by a Snapdragon 605 SoC and Adreno 615 GPU. The 20mm lens has f / 2.8 aperture and ISO 100-3200 for stills and video, plus 4K 60fps and FullHD at 120fps. Other noteworthy features are RAW format recording and H.264 and H.265 codecs. Below you can see some images captured by the drone:
2 different controls
Another major limitation of the company's first drone has been remedied: Skydio has released two accessories that act as a control for the drone. Perhaps most interesting for audiences interested in autonomous flight is the Beacon, a "mini" control with a range of 1.5km. He doesn't need a smartphone and can give you very interesting commands very simply, without having to stare at the controller and go unnoticed while shooting.
By directly "turning on" the control and the drone, both are always in contact and the drone will follow the control regardless of vision loss. A signal always keeps both connected and, by quick and simple commands, the user can zoom in or out. To record scenes such as on a track or bike ride where the user is alone, just "send" the drone to follow and forget that it exists. Through commands on this control it is also possible to change the way it will follow in order to generate images from different angles. And unlike a Mavic 2, for example, it will not stop when it finds a mere tree branch.
The other control has the "traditional" drone format, which requires an Android or iOS smartphone. With it, the user has the camera view and more complete functions like different flight profiles and predefined recording modes – feature already standard in every good drone available today.
Controls Not Accompanied $ 999 Drone
The range is 3.5km, far above what can only be controlled with the use of the smartphone (about 200 meters), but here is one of the points where DJI's top-of-the-range models are already in the race, which already reach 8 kilometers. It's that story: it's a lot less, but in the profile of this product and who it wants to reach, it won't be a big counter.
The downside is that neither control comes with the drone, each costing $ 150, so the tax-free price with at least one of the controls rises to $ 1,150.
Is Skydio 2 perfect?
But then: Is Skydio a perfect drone? Not!
Apart from the issue of flight distance, which could perhaps be close to 7 kilometers, but in my view the main problem is associated with flight autonomy. Yes, it has improved compared to the previous model, but still little. Skydio 2 can fly for up to 23 minutes, seven more than Skydio R1 and …
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