The Skydio X2 Drone: What to Know
Featured image obtained from Skydio.com
The foldable autonomous drone — Skydio’s follow up to the popular prosumer Skydio 2 UAS — comes equipped with 360-degree obstacle avoidance, a 4K60 HDR color + FLIR 320p thermal camera, and an all-new enterprise controller with a built-in 6.8″ ultra-bright AMOLED screen.
Additionally, the company released Skydio Cloud, which initially allows for fleet management and media sync, and will soon offer streaming services for browser and mobile devices, along with remote operations.
Skydio’s latest release marks a big turning point in the world of drones, especially in the United States. Here, we break down the X2, who it’s for, and what it brings to the drone industry.
The Skydio X2: Different Drones for Different Situations
First, it’s important to note that there are two versions of the Skydio X2: the X2E, designed for situational awareness and infrastructure inspection, and the X2D, which was created for reconnaissance and security.
With autonomy software and a dual sensor payload that includes a 12 MP color camera and FLIR 320×256 thermal sensor, the Skydio X2E lowers the drone market barrier-to-entry for both first responders and civil agencies.
These ultra-secure drones were designed to inspect large-scale infrastructures, such as bridges and high-rise buildings, safely and efficiently. Additionally, with software add-ons such as Skydio Autonomy Enterprise Foundation and Skydio 3D Scan, users can utilize 360 superzoom and inspect complex structures, such as energy infrastructures and crash/crime scenes.
With X2E, pilots can ably fly near and around obstacles in GPS-denied environments, watch crowded scenes from the sky with minimal social disruption, fly at ground level and indoors, and automate capture in close proximity to increase speed and data quality.
In other words, it allows for users to have sight of dangerous situations without putting themselves, or anyone else for that matter, in harm’s way. Skydio’s developers undoubtedly built these drones with public safety and ease-of-use in mind.
A drone designed for military use, the X2D, billed as an organic, unit-level sUAS solution, is a force multiplier for the small unit warfighter.
The X2D was designed to provide soldiers with an aerial intelligence platform capable of conducting reconnaissance, assisting in security patrols, and serving in incident response missions. The drone is also compliant with the terms of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The X2D has several features making this drone an excellent tool for service members of militaries worldwide. Small unit teams require their gear to be rugged and portable.
Made of a magnesium and carbon fiber composite, the X2D is a strong and solidly built UAV. The foldable airframe fits into backpacks and rucksacks easily, but can still be fully deployed in under 75 seconds.
Equipped with a dual 4K60 HDR camera (16X digital zoom) and FLIR Boson 320X256 thermal camera (8X digital zoom), the X2D can operate in day or night conditions. The drone features a strobe that can be set to visible or IR for signaling and tracking purposes. Sensors around the X2D even allow the drone to use a vision-based navigation system for operations where GPS is restricted or denied.
The brains of the UAV are as impressive as the hull and payload. Industry-leading artificial intelligence allows the X2D to track subjects and vehicles. Capable of 360° obstacle avoidance, the drone can navigate safely through tight spaces, a real benefit when combined with its waypoint mission path planning software.
Intelligent features, such as point of interest orbit, allow soldiers to conduct autonomous overwatch. Added tools for enhanced situational awareness include a 360 superzoom and a 3D scanning feature for autonomous scene reconstruction. As a whole, the platform gives the warfighter a new set of tools without distracting them from the mission at hand.
The Rise of Skydio
The Redwood City, Ca.-based drone manufacturer began in 2014, when Adam Bry, Abe Bachrach, and Matt Donohoe, came together to create a system for self-navigating drones (read more about that here).
Starting with the Skydio R1 in 2018, then the Skydio 2 in 2019, Skydio showcased its expertise in AI and autonomous flight capabilities. Now, the company’s technology is so well respected that the FAA granted the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) statewide approval to fly Skydio drones during bridge inspections beyond visual line of sight in October 2020.
But, what really set the stage for Skydio, especially in the United States, was the General Service Administration’s Blue sUAS program, which eliminated foreign drone availability in federal agencies.
Over the last five years, the consumer and prosumer drone market has been dominated by DJI.
While there were many other manufactures in the space, it seemed like the commanding share of the market in DJI’s grip would never be relinquished by the Shenzhen-based juggernaut. Towards the end of 2017, that began to change.
In a United States Navy memorandum titled, “Operational Risks With Regards to DJI Family of Products,” concerns were raised over potential intelligence risks from the widespread use of off-the-shelf camera drones.
Essentially, the naval intelligence community believed the drones were too easy to hack and thus provided a method for adversaries to spy on military operations. The Pentagon soon banned the use of all DJI drones.
This action opened the door for other manufacturers to fill the void left by a fleet of DJI drones that were now off limits to government agencies.
To encourage manufacturers to provide small drones for military use, the United States DoD Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) started the Blue sUAS program in 2018. The DIU initially selected five companies to provide small UAVs for military and government entities.
The move fueled a renewed strength in the United States domestic drone manufacturing market. As a result, Skydio’s innovation and proximity put the company in a great position to thrive.
To put this in perspective, the company’s seed funding in 2015 totaled $3 million. As of March 2021, just prior to the X2’s release, Skydio was valued at $1 billion. With its implementation of the X2D for military us, that number stands to increase even more in the coming months.
Bringing It All Together
As it stands, Skydio currently serves 11% of all public safety drone fleets.
And, the stage is set for the company to go toe-to-toe with DJI in the industrial-application space. The future looks bright for the drone industry as whole, as more and more drone manufacturers will bring new innovation to the market in order to compete with one another’s ground-breaking technology. We look forward to it, and we hope you do, too!
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