Selfie drones are not a new concept but all of them rely on the subject being filmed wearing a tracker that the drone can lock onto and follow. The Skydio R1 is different.
It is an autonomous drone, i.e. it can identify a subject, lock onto it, follow and film it automatically. Of course, you can command it to fly and film in certain preset configurations, or even control it completely manually. But it is the autonomous part that sets it apart from other selfie drones.
Equipped with 13 cameras that capture omnidirectional video, the R1 flies as though it is controlled by an intelligent human pilot — except that it is not. It uses computer vision to determine the location of objects and uses a deep neural network to compile information on each object and identify each individual by, say, clothing and size. In this way, it can “tell people apart and stay focused on the right person.”
A motion-planning system then pinpoints the subject’s location and predicts their next move. Based on the terrain, it predicts where the subject can move — or cannot move — to execute a flight path in real time so as to capture a smooth video of the subject.
Our goal with our first product is to deliver on the promise of an autonomous flying camera that understands where you are, understands the scene around it, and can move itself to capture amazing video you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.
— Adam Bry, co-founder and CEO of Skydio
Using the R1 is as simple as using a smartphone app. A user places the drone on the ground or in their hand, and swipes up on the Skydio app. The R1 lifts off, identifies the user, and begins recording and tracking. In the autonomous mode, it can stay from 10 feet to 30 feet away from a subject. In manual mode, it can film from 300 feet away, depending on Wi-Fi availability. Battery life is about 16 minutes. The R1 drone is lightweight, can fit into an average backpack and is priced about US $2,500.
Editor’s note: Autonomous vehicles are the future, though really intelligent — and safe — autonomous vehicles are dozens of years away. Trust the primitive AI built into today’s semi-autonomous vehicles at your — and your family’s — own risk. Also, truly intelligent autonomous vehicles will certainly be put to wrong and morally unethical use and, until the AI community (and the public) make a concerted effort to come together and agree on a universal law (i.e. “robots must never hurt humans”), all the wonderful AI technology developed for robots and vehicles such as the autonomous selfie drone could (will?) be put to nefarious use.