Skydio North Dakota FAA BEYOND program

Skydio joins FAA BEYOND program — and the company could play a key role in future drone regulation

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site named eight companies and organizations that it will partner with as part of its participation in the FAA BEYOND program — and one of them is also one of the hottest names in drones right now: Skydio.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) this month announced the names of those eight companies that it would partner with a large handful of commercial drone companies as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) BEYOND program. Those eight companies are:

  • Airspace Link: an FAA-approved UAS Service Supplier of Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)
  • Equinor: an energy company developing oil, gas, wind and solar energy in more than 30 countries, (and North Dakota)
  • iSight Drone Services: a North Dakota-based company, providing professional UAS operations
  • Skydio: a drone manufacturer
  • SkySkopes: a professional drone service provider based in North Dakota focused on the energy sector
  • Volansi: a commercial manufacturer and operator of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) autonomous flight systems
  • Workhorse: an autonomous solutions provider focused on package delivery
  • Xcel Energy: a company focused on energy technologies and energy delivery.

The BEYOND program was launched by the FAA in October 2020 as a grouping of eight state, local and tribal governments (one of them being the North Dakota Department of Transportation).

Skydio North Dakota FAA BEYOND program
A Skydio drone in action. Image courtesy of Skydio.

Those eight organizations are then tasked with partnering with private companies. Together, they’re tasked with collecting data to develop performance-based standards, collecting and addressing community feedback and understanding the societal and community benefits, and studying how it can streamline the approval processes for UAS integration. That information is then transmitted to the FAA, which will be used to inform future drone regulation.

All the regional participants in the FAA BEYOND program are:

  • Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority of Virginia
  • Kansas Department of Transportation
  • Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority
  • North California Department of Transportation
  • North Dakota Department of Transportation
  • City of Reno, Nevada
  • University of Alaska-Fairbanks

Among the private companies participating in other regional BEYOND groups include Iris Automation.

While participation in the BEYOND program doesn’t necessarily mean companies will make rules, their actions and data will certainly inform them. That’s potentially huge for a company like Skydio that has long sought to not just disrupt DJI’s massive market share in the consumer drone industry, but also to position itself as a leading U.S. manufacturer of drones that can intelligently navigate complex environments for industrial inspections and public safety.

Even Skydio’s consumer-focused, less-than-$1,000 drone, the Skydio 2, is a small drone capable of using AI to see and understand its surroundings, thanks to sensors on all sides.

This could also help Skydio’s quest to position itself as the best made in USA drone. That’s been a hot topic in the drone industry, which has lately been met with high levels of anti-China sentiment amidst news that the U.S. government has added DJI to a list of companies on its restricted trade list, alongside discussion that the U.S. government might ban its own agencies from using Chinese-made drones. In fact, in 2017,  the U.S. Army prohibited its troops from using DJI drones due to cyber-security concerns.

Meanwhile, Skydio’s X2 drone is NDAA-compliant, and the drone was selected as a trusted UAV solution for the US Department of Defense under the DIU’s Blue sUAS program.

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