Drones have made many impressive advancements over the last few years and one that we’ve really enjoyed has been the various ‘Follow me’ modes. They’re definitely a welcome addition to the drone’s programming arsenal, but there have been many issues. Quite frankly, the ‘Follow me’ mode has never quite been as promised and the dream of having a drone follow us smoothly through a dense forest was beginning to falter. We have finally, however, seen demo footage from the Skydio R1 and it looks like our prayers are about to be answered. It’s going to be a photographer’s dream, and a YouTube streamer’s new favorite feature if it pans out. Available right now in the US an Canada, it weighs in at 2.2 lbs and uses 13 onboard cameras.
An MIT Graduate’s Brainchild
Skydio is a drone startup that was formed by MIT graduates who now claim the Skydio R1 is the world’s first autonomous flying camera – something straight out of the pages of science fiction novels. We’ve seen shots of the automated aircraft diving and weaving between trees while creating some of the smoothest video the industry has ever produced, and it all seems to be genuine. One issue that we would like to addressed is that most promotional videos use carefully crafted footage rather than raw camera video, and the video from the Skydio does seem to be authentic. The video shown as part of the R1 launch displays a woman flipping from fallen trunks and over rocks while the drone navigates the shrubbery with almost no issue. If this is true to life, then we’re in for quite the surprise when we get our hands on it.
Old Tech Creates a New Product
This tech was seen in MIT research as early as 2015. We recall seeing a fixed-wing done flying through the trees at an amazing 30 MPH, which is far beyond what any other consumer models can pull off. We also saw the Yuneec Typhoon H Drone at CES 2016, where it avoided a falling tree – something that most other drones could never even dream of pulling off.
A Dream Four Years in the Making
Since that amazing display at CES 2016 the technology has had quite a bit of time to evolve. The R1 drone took four years of development, and it has not only delivered, it has raised the bar. Of course, it’s all just promotional material, and only a hands-on test is going to show us what it is actually capable of. Still, the early indicators show that it is certainly impressive.
Mapping the Environment
We mentioned that the Skydio R1 uses 13 onboard cameras which it combines with inertial measurement units. Using these, it can construct a map of its environment and track a person in space. It also uses learning algorithms to separate obstacles from the subjects that it is tracking, ensuring that it will always perform the right actions while following the subject, even through a dense environment.
With a top speed of 25 mph or 40 km/h, the drone will be able to keep up with nearly anyone traveling on foot, and a total of 16 minutes of flight time gives it plenty of uses. All this tech comes at a hefty price of $2,499, but if it delivers on its promises, then it’s well worth it. Look for it in the US and Canada whether you’re a hobbyist, a professional photographer, or anyone else who requires a state of the art aerial camera.
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