If you’re reading this, you probably feel like I do: there just isn’t anything more exciting than the drone industry right now. Across industries, early adopters have proven the value of drone programs — saving lives, money, and time. However, you probably also realize that as these programs have surmounted initial barriers, new challenges have appeared. As is the case with many technology markets, the basic hardware platforms have plateaued, and incremental improvements are bringing diminishing returns — for example, the difference between a 4MP camera and a 12MP camera changes the ways you can use a drone more than the difference between a 12MP and 20MP camera does.
The primary hurdle for the industry to overcome, however, is that pilots are hard to hire, train, and retain. Skilled pilots are in high demand because they are the only way to keep manual drones from crashing. As a result, pilot training can consume up to 80% of a drone program’s budget. And even so, 55% of respondents to a recent survey pointed to the risk of crashes as the main pain point holding their program back. A crash is extremely disruptive to a drone program, and can be overwhelmingly expensive — the DJI Zenmuse XT2 thermal sensor costs $14,000 and is carried by manual drones like the DJI Matrice.
Enter the age of AI-driven autonomy. We equipped Skydio 2™ with Skydio Autonomy™, the first computer vision based flight autonomy engine that understands the surroundings of the drone and avoids obstacles in real-time. This core AI intelligence is built into every Skydio drone.
With Skydio Autonomy™, drones work for their pilots instead of the other way around. This means lower blood pressure when you fly, free from the fear of crashing and getting an earful from the boss. It means getting the job done faster, more precisely, with artificial intelligence helping you do a better job than you had ever before. Every story we hear from a first responder, inspector, or construction worker makes the rounds of Skydio HQ and gets all of us fired up.
The overwhelming success we have enjoyed with Skydio 2 confirms that autonomy unlocks tremendous value. The natural next step for us is to work on a higher end product line optimized for enterprise and public sector. The Skydio X2 product line, recently announced to the public, is the result of months of hard engineering work that incorporates a tremendous amount of generously provided customer input. In this blog, I’d like to share a bit more about the X2, and just a few of the ways it will drive incredible value to our customers.
As will always be the case with any of our drones, Skydio X2 is paired with our groundbreaking Skydio Autonomy technology. X2 builds on this proven technology we first released in October 2019 on the Skydio 2, and applies it to a ruggedized, foldable airframe with six 4K navigation cameras for 360° obstacle avoidance and a dual sensor payload that includes 12MP color and 320x256 FLIR® sensors.
X2 will initially be available in two configurations:
- Skydio X2D, built to meet the Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) requirements for the U.S. Army, the X2D is the ultimate solution for military and defense to perform reconnaissance, search and rescue, and security patrol missions. The X2D will feature available QGroundControl integration, and a long-range radio compatible with the reserved 1.8 GHz channel for wireless ranges up to 10 km. For defense agencies, X2D will come in a fully offline mode, that allows cyber secure operations in critical environments.
- Skydio X2E, optimized for enterprises, first responders, and civilian agencies, the X2E is the ideal solution for situational awareness and inspection of infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, power plants, power stations and rail yards. With a radio optimized for commercial bands, operators will enjoy the flexibility of flying up to 6km away — an upgrade from the 3.5km rating on Skydio 2’s antenna.
But no matter who flies an X2, or what they use it for, we will do everything in our power to deliver software that helps them get the job done faster, better, and safer.
All the brains of Skydio 2, with the brawn of an enterprise workhorse.
Skydio 2 showed the world the value of autonomous drones. Though the S2 is built on consumer-grade hardware, enterprise users across the country have effectively put it to work on a range of use cases from search and rescue to bridge inspection. Over and over we hear the same refrain, “I wish I could have been using this instead of my [insert $25k+ enterprise drone].” So, what more would a Skydio drone need to help businesses? It needed a thermal camera, an enterprise-ready controller, and longer station time. X2 delivers that and more.
The X2 is ready to step into any enterprise application. It folds smaller and opens larger than Skydio 2. It’s spookily quiet; you have to see — well, hear — it to believe it. And like any Skydio, it’s an absolute joy to fly. There are a few of the factors that get us so excited to be bringing X2 to the drone community:
Embedded into every Skydio X2, Skydio Autonomy Core provides 360° obstacle avoidance, real-time 3D mapping, object and scene recognition, and motion planning to let the operator focus on the task at hand, not the piloting. These are core capabilities for any autonomous drone, and as you make decisions on aircraft to build out your fleet, we encourage you to treat them like prerequisites. Without these AI capabilities, any other “autonomous” drone is just following a script — going to a series of waypoints and praying it doesn’t have to avoid obstacles or make decisions on its own. In future blogs, we’ll share even more about how this intelligence layer allows Skydio drones to perform missions that seem like they should be impossible.
An Enterprise Controller for an enterprise drone
Enterprise users need an enterprise controller. So, we built an enterprise-grade, autonomy-oriented command and control device from the ground up. With a large screen and rugged body, the new Skydio Enterprise Controller is ready to be used to command an autonomous drone via joysticks or touchscreen commands. The controller also features external antennas that extend wireless range to up to 10km on X2D or 6km on X2E. With simple command interfaces and extended range, the Enterprise Controller enables pilots to get the most out of every flight. Oh, and by the way, we know it’s tough to work joysticks in the cold, so we made the controls big enough to be operated with gloves on.
Security, privacy, and trust
Enterprises and defense agencies need to handle sensitive data in trustworthy ways. From national to enterprise-grade security, the Skydio X2 is designed to deliver ironclad, end-to-end protection. From a cybersecurity standpoint, we have added media card encryption, signed and encrypted firmware and burned-in keys at time of manufacture. This is designed to protect your drone from data exfiltration or compromise of command-and-control by nefarious actors. Further, we design, manufacture and support our drones from our headquarters in the United States, and value our customers’ privacy. When you take X2 on a mission, you have full control over both your drone, and your data.
Ideal for situational awareness, inspections, asset management
X2 is suited to create value and deliver on our mission across a wide range of industries. We are unbelievably excited for the potential in a myriad of spaces. These are just a few examples of what we mean with this:
- Situational Awareness. In a tense situation, there’s no putting a price on a birds-eye view. However, out of ~18,000 police agencies in the US, only ~200 have helicopter programs. Drones have the potential to democratize aerial data so that every agency in America can more effectively perform search and rescue, de-escalate hostile situations, and fight fires while keeping first responders out of harm’s way.
Inspection. Utilities are full of dangerous jobs. Whether inspecting power plants in high-radiation areas, or transmission lines at high altitudes and voltages, drones can go places that are too dangerous to send humans. Autonomous drones are key to these inspections, as they must be able to detect and avoid critical assets to prevent damaging property, which can lead to outages.
Asset Management. Inspections are time-consuming, costly, and dangerous. Whether requiring snooper trucks, scaffolding, or cranes, close inspections of infrastructure or construction sites slow down job sites and add unnecessary staring to budgets. Autonomous drones can help foremen collect the information they need without requiring extensive pilot training programs to do the job safely
Join the autonomous drone revolution
When we launched Skydio S2™, we were amazed and humbled by the ways our pilots added value to their personal adventures, their communities, and even their companies using our product. With X2™, we are excited to make it easier for these pilots, while discovering entirely new opportunities for aerial autonomy to make the world a safer, cleaner, and more creative place.
As with any Skydio, the drone itself is just the tip of the iceberg, so we’ll be sharing much more in the days to come about the myriad ways Skydio Autonomy will expand your enterprise drone applications.
The X2 products will be available in Q4 2020. If you are interested in joining us on this journey, please do get in touch via our website.