December 19 2019

Why Autonomy Matters for Public Safety Drones


“My hands just shake a lot less when I fly.” That was the response from the young police officer and UAS pilot when I asked him to boil down why the Skydio 2 was different than the other drones he flies at work.

I knew from 27 years of service exactly what he meant when he said it. Anyone who has ever launched a drone for a mission knows the pressure and stress of flying in front of a bunch of fellow cops or firefighters who not only depend upon your success but might relish just a bit in your failure. And of course, the humiliation of calling for a supervisor when the drone crashes to earth after hitting a tree, wall, or some other object that “wasn’t there just a minute ago,” is something everyone wants to avoid.

Beyond these examples, it’s difficult to specifically describe or quantify why the drone with the intelligence to avoid obstacles is so different and transformational. It seems universal that people are impressed with the Skydio 2 when they first fly it, or rather, watch it fly itself. In addition to the ability to see and avoid objects in the world around it, the drone has several capabilities that require intelligent flight, like following people and vehicles, and flying circles around points of interest while simultaneously avoiding obstacles. The Skydio 2 is so far above its competitors in these categories it is frankly a bit shocking to people when they first see it in action. And when I demo the drone for people in public safety it’s almost as if I can see their wheels spinning as they envision exactly why, how, and when they’d use the unique qualities of the Skydio 2 to do their job. The Skydio 2 doesn’t leave them with the impression that their current fleet is obsolete, but it does open them up to a whole new range of mission and use-case possibilities. And more likely, makes them realize that many of the missions they do today can be done more quickly and easily with the Skydio 2.

For example, on a recent ride-along with a Chula Vista Police Officer I watched as he launched the Skydio 2 to check the roof on a burglary call at a certain well-known holiday ham store. He hovered the drone a few feet above the rooftop and pulled the joysticks in all directions, sliding left, right, and backward as he scanned the structure for potential entry points or other evidence of a crime. His ability to fly close to the roof gave him a clear view of even the smallest details. His flight wasn’t tentative or meek, but confident and quick. He had no need for concern for hitting something he didn’t or couldn’t see like an AC unit, vent cap, cable, or pole. He finished the flight in a few minutes and brought the drone safely home. He didn’t exhibit any of the stress or fear that I’ve had when flying a drone on-duty. Other drones could have potentially accomplished the same objective, it just would have taken longer (more battery time) and required more care and skill. Skydio 2’s ability to be its own Visual Observer, actively avoiding objects while continuing its work, provides an added layer of confidence that means it’s more usable to more first responders in more everyday situations.

Chula Vista Police Captain and UAS Team Commander Vern Sallee said it best at the recent media event announcing their deployment of the Skydio 2 in daily patrol operations; “I want my police officers focused on being police officers, not focused on being drone pilots. This drone [Skydio 2] really affords our officers the opportunity to have better tactical awareness on the scene without having to be expert drone pilots, as the drone does the flying and thinking about all those objects, and our officers can be better focused on tactics and problem solving.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So, is Skydio 2 right for your public safety agency? CVPD and soon others will be proving that it is a valuable tool today, and has earned its rightful place in the first responder’s tool box. With no thermal camera and no night flight capability, Skydio 2 isn’t right for every public safety use case, but it is great for many of them. And the same engineering team that delivered its game changing autonomy is now working hard on expanding the capability set. Stay tuned.

We want Skydio to be easy to incorporate into any public safety operation, and that starts with getting them in your hands. We’ll do our best to expedite public safety orders, and sales to agencies made through our growing network of Skydio Authorized Resellers. When you’re ready to take your UAS program to the next level, please reach out to us at We’ll do everything we can to help you put Skydio 2 to work as soon as possible.