There’s another drone that carries Sony cameras — and this one is made in the USA

Sony’s is own Sony Airpeak drone was certainly designed to carry the Sony Alpha series of mirrorless cameras. But as it turns out, there’s another drone company that’s working closely with Sony to fly its cameras — and this drone is made in the U.S.A.

The Skyfish M4 drone

U.S.-based drone manufacturer Skyfish today launched its advanced autonomous work drone platform, which is a series of enterprise-grade drones and drone products. The platform includes two drones (the Skyfish M4 and Skyfish M6), Skyfish Mission Control flight planning and navigation software, the Skyportal customer data center, a long-lasting battery system, and a unique ruggedized remote controller called the Skyfish C1. 

The drones are designed for industrial work, like photogrammetry and infrastructure inspections. But what really makes Skyfish’s drones stand out is the company’s relationship with Sony. While Skyfish drones support many payloads and sensors out-of-the-box, including LiDAR and thermal sensors from FLIR, most of the interest in Skyfish drones is centered around the fact that the drones can fully integrate with the Sony Alpha series of cameras.

That’s made possible by Skymind, the name for Skyfish’s onboard computer. Skymind talks to the Sony Alpha series of cameras in real-time, leveraging API calls and allowing the software to adjust the camera based on autonomous data capture algorithms.

A snapshot from Sony’s visit to the Skyfish office. Image courtesy of Skyfish.

Pilots have long called for a drone capable of carrying the Sony Alpha camera series. And this year, drone pilots will get not one, but two options. One made by Japan-based Sony itself, and one made by American drone manufacturer Skyfish. But despite the fact that both companies are producing Sony-toting drones, the relationship between Sony and Skyfish is friendly, rather than competitive, Skyfish CEO Dr. Orest Pilskalns told The Drone Girl. Because of that, Skyfish gets to see new functionality before release, as well as can provide feedback on Sony’s technology roadmap for the Sony Alpha.

In fact, just before COVID-19 restricted travel, Akira Saitou, B2B leader for the Sony Alpha series of cameras visited Skyfish’s offices in January 2020, seeking feedback on the Sony API and SDK for the Alpha series.

“Akira mentioned that our reality modeling was amazing and that he felt it was the best industrial use-case he had seen on his trip to visit commercial partners,” Pilskalns said.

What you need to know about the Skyfish drones

Details on Sony’s own drone are limited, but it looks to be geared toward photographers. For drone pilots seeking Sony’s well-established sensor technology on an enterprise-grade drone designed for industrial use cases, it’s more likely that Skyfish will be your best bet.

The Skyfish M-Series supports the Sony Alpha series of cameras, with up to 61 megapixels of precision — making them useful for photogrammetry. Both drones in the Skyfish M-Series are designed to carry robust payloads including electro-optical, thermal, methane detection, LiDAR and custom payloads too.

The Skyfish M4 is geared toward photogrammetry and the creation of high-fidelity 3D reality models for engineering grade inspection and measurement of critical infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Skyfish M6 is designed for lifting heavier payloads, and is capable of carrying 12 pounds.

The Skyfish C1 controller

Here are some other specs and features that stand out with Skyfish’s drones:

  • End-to-end integration: Skyfish controls the entire stack, from data-collection to battery technology.
  • Up to 60 minutes of flight time: That may very well be the longest flight time for a quadcopter carrying the Sony Alpha 7iv.
  • Quick deployment: The drone can be deployed in under 2 minutes. 
  • Mesh network capable: Skyfish uses repeaters for long distance communication, and its range is 5 miles.
  • Deep RTK integration: That allows for extreme location accuracy down to centimeter-level precision.
  • Integrated motor and ESC: That allows for cooling and better reliability.
  • Customizable payloads: The drone’s “Skymind” technology can talk to and control almost any payload.  It supports USB, I2C, Serial, PWM and more.

Skyfish’s autonomous work drone platform is designed for enterprise use cases like precision measurement and critical infrastructure inspections. Pilskalns said he was particularly proud of the work the company has done in the cellular tower industry. 

“We’ve designed a state-of-the-art drone system for inspecting and scanning cell towers, and with our partner, Bentley Systems, we produce the best 3D reality model results in the world today,” he said.

What is Skyfish?

With the launch of its new products, Skyfish is emerging from ‘stealth mode.’ But the company is already robust, and has created a business that builds the entire drone essentially from start to finish.

“We’ve developed an advanced autonomous drone technology stack. We design and manufacture our own onboard computer, remote controller, carbon composite airframes, battery charging system, RTK base station, flight planning and navigation software, and 3D modeling, mapping, and data analytics software,” Pilskalns said. “We support industry standard sensors, cameras, RTK kits, and radios. And we have unique data processing, mapping, and 3D modeling capabilities.

Another made in America drone company

Skyfish is headquartered in Stevensville, Montana. Its first steps out of stealth mode come at an interesting time for U.S. drone pilots, who are increasingly searching for drones that are made in America.

The calls to buy drones made in America saw a huge uptick starting in August 2017 in the wake of a U.S. Army memo that temporarily banned its units from using DJI drones because of cyber-security concerns due to DJI being a Chinese company. The heat against Chinese drone makers really turned up in December 2020, when the U.S. government put DJI on a restricted trade alongside dozens of Chinese companies.

A screenshot from Skyfish’s software

While many of the government organizations that placed drone bans have specifically targeted drones made in China, some have banned all drones made outside the USA. That could even pose a potential problem for the newly-announced, Sony-made Airpeak drone (as Sony is a Japanese company).

Especially among drone businesses that work for clients with highly confidential information, such as in critical infrastructure inspections, pilots have found that clients prefer them to operate U.S.-made drones.

“Data security should be a major concern for any commercial drone operator,” Pilskalns said. “If a company is serious about security and keeping their information safe, they will be looking for a domestic solution, like Skyfish or Skydio.”

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