Will Knight reports Startup Skydio has created a drone using several video cameras along with vision processing data that allows the drone to avoid obstacles and navigate at high speeds on its own through active airspace.
Skydio has created a drone with a sophisticated autopilot that allows the drone to fly itself using Skydio’s technology. The CEO of Skydio, Adam Bry, states, “The motivation for the company is giving the thing the agility, attention, and awareness that an expert pilot has.” Bry and his coworkers rode bicycles along a dirt track while the drone followed using its autopilot to weave around trees, branches, and any other obstacle in its way.
Most drones are controlled remotely or only capable of basic automation. Knight states there are a few drones that are becoming more advanced with obstacle identification and avoidance, but none of them are as sophistication as Skydio’s prototype. For example, a Chinese company, DJI, has developed a drone called Phantom 4 that uses several cameras to determine obstacles and override the controller’s actions. Knight reports, “But it doesn’t perform the kind of mapping and navigation that Skydio’s drone does.”
Knight discloses that while Bry attended MIT along with the Chief Technology Officer, Abraham Bachrach, he developed the algorithms that enable the vision-processing software. Their advisor, Nick Roy, a professor of robotics at MIT, emphasis the importance of drones flying independently and how this step is the missing part for these aerial vehicles to become more frequent for surveillance and inspection tasks.
Knight further reveals that the challenge for the drone to fly independently is that the hardware needs to be compact and light. Bry states there is no margin of error due to the inability to stop and turn everything off. Further, Bry determines the drone is likely to crash if anything goes wrong with any part of the system.