When Skydio first came into the public eye years ago, it primarily appealed to action sports photographers. The sensors on the brilliant, “crash-proof” drone could help it navigate through trees and under bridges, promising to be the perfect tool for filming action sports like downhill skiing or mountain biking. But these days, it’s Skydio enterprise drones that are taking the spotlight.
Skydio’s consumer and photography-minded customers are certainly a key audience for the company, and its Skydio 2 drone has been a popular, American-made alternative particularly to DJI drones. But lately Skydio enterprise drones have risen in popularity, largely due to products like the Skydio X2, which began shipping in spring 2021 and added features like dual color/thermal sensors that were designed specifically for defense, public sector and enterprise customers.
And three major announcements from Skydio (and some key enterprise customers) this summer suggest that the company is more heavily investing in the commercial side of things. So with that, here are three major updates this summer from Skydio enterprise drones:
Dominion Energy receives waiver to use Skydio drones
Dominion Energy, which provides energy and natural gas to roughly 7 million customers across 13 U.S. states, announced in July that it had received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to fly drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for the purpose of inspecting more than 40 million power generation facilities in seven of the states it works in (Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia).
The approval is a waiver received in partnership with Skydio’s regulatory team under the FAA BEYOND program, more specifically the Virginia team led by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP).
With it, individual operators like plant engineers will be able to fly drones outside their line of sight with no requirement to use an additional crew member or technology to detect crewed aircraft.
Dominion Energy has been using drones as early as 2014, long before Skydio was a name the drone industry knew. These days, it’s using the Skydio X2 paired with Skydio Autonomy, an advanced AI-based autonomous flight engine.
Skydio adds ability to integrate with Axon for wireless live-streaming
At the end of May 2022, Axon and Skydio announced that public safety agencies flying Skydio drones and using Axon Respond, Axon’s real-time operations platform, would now have the ability to access drone live-streams — in theory providing more comprehensive views of incidents.
Axon is a company that builds public safety-focused products, most famously the Taser. And earlier this year, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company began offering Skydio’s autonomous drones to law enforcement and emergency responders via its unmanned aircraft program called Axon Air.
This latest news builds on that partnership by now offering integration with Axon Respond. That allows command staff and 911 dispatchers to combine the live-streaming capabilities of Axon body-worn and in-car cameras with the Skydio drone’s aerial perspective — all within the same network.
Additionally, Skydio drone-captured imagery will live alongside corresponding body-worn camera video in Axon’s digital evidence management platform, Axon Evidence, where it can be securely and efficiently managed and shared like any other digital asset in Axon Evidence.
Axon also hinted at new tech set to arrive later this year that will allow agencies to easily manage their drone programs with comprehensive program management platform, including pilots, flight logs, data and hardware all on Axon Air powered by DroneSense, with such automated record keeping making it easy to provide accountability and transparency across the entire organization.
Skydio goes open source
More than half of non-DJI drones are open source, and you can add Skydio to that mix.
Skydio’s proprietary framework for writing algorithmic code for their drones, called SymForce, this year became open source.
An open-source drone refers to one that operates via a a free-use license, that’s openly and publicly worked on by developers. Rather than a company building proprietary technology and software that they keep for themselves, companies may choose to contribute to open-source technology. In turn, others can build upon it and improve their technology — often a win-win for all parties.
And Skydio’s move could be a win for the California-based drone company, too.
“Simply put, (Sydio engineers) learned that writing code that powers robots is a complex challenge,” according to a blog post from Skydio. “The algorithms used must meet a very high bar of performance to actually ship and use in production, which typically leads to a slower iteration cycle that requires dedicated expertise in research and software engineering (aka dedicated resources, time, and money). It was imperative that they were able to improve this cycle to make their drones smarter and faster, so they developed SymForce – a framework for writing code using symbolic computation and code generation.”
What Skydio enterprise drones are most customers using?
While som enterprise users are certainly using Skydio’s lower-cost, photography-focused Skydio 2 drones, most use the Skydio X2, which is offered in two versions:
Skydio X2D: This version is designed for defense and federal agencies and is approved by the U.S. government as a trusted solution for the US Department of Defense and is a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) compliant solution.
Skydio X2E: This version is intended for enterprises, first responders, and civilian agencies.
Both drones start at $11,000 (and sometimes more, depending on the specs you add), which is much more expensive than the roughly $1,000 you’ll spend on the consumer version of the Skydio 2 drone.
The drone is supported by impressive software tools, primarily Skydio Cloud, which is a suite of cloud services and APIs designed to better enable customers to use drones at scale.
Among Skydio’s customers includes BNSF Railway, which has been using drones for aerial inspections and was an earlier beta test partner of Skydio Cloud.
There’s also Skydio 3D Scan, which is an ‘adaptive mapping software’ that’s intended to better automate data capture with drones.