My name is Dylan Hamm, and I am a Solutions Engineer with Skydio. I work with our customers to provide training, and to be a resource for technical, and applications related knowledge. I work to better understand their needs and use cases, while working with our own development team, to help drive our products’ evolution to enhance productivity, and help our customers to achieve mission success. Today, I’d like to tell you a bit about my journey in defense and in drones, and how it has led me to Skydio.
Pre-deployment training, Bridgeport, CA 2012
I spent the last 12+ years in Special Operations as a SEAL, and helped to pioneer the development of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) platforms within my community. I found a unique interest with UAS based on their ability to transform the battlefield, both increasing our organic capacity for situational awareness, as well as giving us a unique advantage over our adversaries.
Getting my start in drones
As I looked forward to my transition from active duty, I knew that working in the field of UAS would both allow me to have a great positive impact, as well as allow me to take an active role in something I am passionate about.
I was excited by Skydio’s initial breakout into the Drone industry, due to their focus on multi-camera obstacle avoidance and autonomous flight paths. While all the other available commercial systems at the time we’re developing products with limited stability (optical flow cameras, ultrasonic proximity sensors) Skydio was working towards a fundamentally different, three-dimensional control scheme. This capability — removing the likelihood of a crash, while also reducing the cognitive workload of the pilot — is a gamechanger for folks on the ground who are focused on their mission, which is already complex enough.
Transitioning to the private sector
Transitioning from the military to the civilian sector has been both challenging, and very rewarding. Initially, there is the sense of complete unknown. Having existed in an organization whose overall structure, and way of life are completely alien to anyone outside it, the sense of apprehension is very real. How do I fit into this world, when for the majority of my adult life, I have existed in what amounts to another dimension? People outside do not understand what I have gone through, and have never faced those challenges, or had to make hard decisions, while feeling the weight of life and death on their shoulders. I believe these feelings resonate with many transitioning veterans, as they look to taking the next step in their personal stories.
Everyone is unique, and it is important to recognize the great value in diversity of life experience. That unique perspective, and understanding, offer incredible value to organizations, who by their very nature may not have had occasion to learn those lessons, or develop those qualities. The unique perspectives obtained by veterans are not based on abstraction, but fully vetted by real life experiences.
I believe the principle value Veterans bring to industry, is in the very core of their being. The sense of duty to mission, and drive: to not follow steps A, B, and C as learned in training, but to follow through with a challenge until it is both complete, and held to a standard of excellence and pride set forth by someone who stood for their Nation, and way of life.
My sense of duty, and that of all veterans, was not left in the service. It is a force that is carried with us, and shaped by our own values. It cannot be shaken, but will always need a place to thrive. This feeling extends to that of my brothers in arms, and all servicemembers. They are in the arena, and I want to do my best to ensure that they are both provided with the tools which will help them stay safe, and to let them know that American Industry stands beside them.
I see Skydio’s systems, as tools, which can help save lives, both through their ability to increase situational awareness, as well as their broad accessibility. This allows more people to tap into these powerful capabilities, and achieve a positive outcome. The team at Skydio, much like my past service in the military, is full of talented, highly motivated individuals. With a passion for discovery, the team is in a historically unique position to be able to rapidly and effectively work with our Armed Forces, to shape Skydio’s products to be the best choice for every mission.
A Paradigm shift in Strategy, and tactics, through modern technology:
Operationally, I have had the opportunity to witness the beginning of a generational shift in both battlefield technology, and the nature of how modern conflicts manifest. Gone are the days where we can simply overmatch the enemy with impressive weapons platforms, armor, and overwhelming assets. At its most fundamental level, the domains of conflict are changing. With technology, there is an incredible power in information, and influence. The most valuable asset to battlefield commanders is information. The accuracy, and speed of access to this information is often the determining factor in outcome.
Having prepared, planned for, and executed many missions, I understand just how important everything leading up to, and throughout execution of an operation is. We train physically to be reactive in nature. Muscle memory, and repetition allow our bodies to act responsively, and decisively when actions need to take place NOW. The more time you spend in these high stress environments, the more the blinders are pulled back, and you begin to truly see, your aperture widens.
UAS have leveraged this outcome as well, through their capacity to obtain valuable tactical information as organic ISR platforms. By allowing forces to position themselves out of harm’s way in obtaining this information, unit leadership is allowed the room to breathe, and make the best choice for their particular situation. This is the power of both having access to tactical information, and being in a position, either mentally, or physically, to be able to appropriately process, and respond to it.
What has changed, and will continue to evolve, is that proximity to the physical threat has generally broadened. While distances between adversaries have extended, the window for decisive action has begun to shrink. When weapons systems can affect a target with a high level of accuracy, and teams have access to real time, or near real time video, survival hinges on those who obtain, process, and act upon information the fastest.
Alongside this, is the propagation of information, which allows for the rapid evolution of tactics and applications. Lessons learned in one region can be debriefed, the video can be reviewed, and new countermeasures, or more effective tactics evolve, and emerge suddenly, across the entire theater.
A new player takes the field:
One of the early champions in this technologically evolving game of chess, is that of Unmanned Systems. Their ability to be rapidly deployed, and offer real time battlefield intelligence to the ground force without placing personnel at risk, has changed the game entirely.
Access to this level of timely intelligence in the past was reserved for defense technologies and assets only obtainable by Nation states. Fixed wing ISR aircraft, satellite imagery, and manned air assets. We may still own the air strategically, but the ability to employ organic ISR is now available to anyone with two thumbs and a couple hundred dollars.
Skydio is making its name in the industry, by delivering highly powerful, accessible, secure, and reliable systems for ground forces. This allows them to have the capacity to self support, as well as to improve their strategic outcomes. Through autonomy, we are leading the way to enabling decision makers that clearer picture, and tactical space needed, to achieve mission success, and to bring our service members home safe. We are proud to play our part in supporting our men and women in uniform, and we offer them our very best.
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in this rapidly evolving field of unmanned systems. I feel privileged to be able to share that experience, in working with our veterans in the Armed forces moving forward.
To all those who have served and those who are still serving — Thank You!