AI News, Skydio's Camera Drone Finally Delivers on Autonomous Flying Promises

Skydio's Camera Drone Finally Delivers on Autonomous Flying Promises

Every time we post about autonomous delivery drones, we have to point out that despite the promises implied by overproduced and optimistic videos, the drones are simply not capable of autonomous navigation in complex environments.

Same goes for those camera drones that promise to follow you: the videos inevitably show them following skiers on wideopen slopes, surfers on the wide open sea, or other people doing things very far away from inconvenient obstacles like trees.

Silicon Valley company called Skydio, founded by a team of researchers from MIT and Google X’s Project Wing, have posted a video that shows a drone following people jogging and biking while autonomously avoiding tree trunks and branches.

We’re usually very skeptical about drones doing amazing things in videos, expecting to see localization systems lurking in the background, or the obvious polish of careful editing and multiple cameras and takes.

All of the navigation is done entirely based on a multi-camera array with all computation done onboard on a state of the art mobile CPU.” This is very cool stuff, but it’s less surprising than it could be for Skydio to come out of nowhere with this, because of where the company comes from.

Pretty cool, but the difference, Bry says, is that Skydio isn’t just avoiding obstacles: Skydio’s drone is “using all of the available information from the environment to make intelligent decisions to get smooth, intelligent behavior—similar to what an expert pilot would do.” In other words, Skydio’s hardware and software allows it to continually path-plan around obstacles with the sort of grace that robots (usually) don’t have.

They won’t tell us what exactly they’re working on (or even let us see a close-up picture of their drone), but Bry is optimistic about what Skydio will be able to accomplish: Part of what makes this exciting is the long runway of stuff to be built and the new products and use-cases that will open up as the technology matures.

Daredevil Drone Flies through the Trees Like an Ace

On a recent bike ride through the woods near Menlo Park in California, Adam Bry, CEO of a company called Skydio, and his coworkers were joined by a small, nimble drone.

It lets an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use several video cameras not only to avoid obstacles but also to navigate at high speeds through busy airspace as expertly as a human pilot.

There’s a lot of context that we bring to bear when we’re flying.” Flying autonomously is more difficult than driving because the hardware needs to be compact and light, and because even the slightest miscalculation can result in disaster.

In fact, if anything goes wrong on any part of the system, the most likely outcome is that you crash.” The drone developed by Skydio uses a camera together with vision-processing software that lets the aircraft determine where it is in space, and to identify and avoid obstacles.

The techniques they came up with made it possible for drones to navigate through unfamiliar indoor spaces safely and for a plane with a two-foot wingspan to weave its way around a busy garagewithout crashing.

“If we want these things to provide all the services people are hoping for in terms of infrastructure inspection, precision agriculture, filming in various ways, that’s going to require autonomy,” Roy says.

Skydio's R1 Camera-Drone Will Target, Follow and Record You While Avoiding Obstacles

Skydio, a California-based drone start-up founded by MIT researchers, has developed an unmanned aerial vehicle with 13 embedded cameras that can target and follow you all while avoiding obstacles in environments as dense as forests or warehouses.

We recently reported on MIT’s NanoMap technology, which used a drone position’s uncertainty to its advantage in regards to smart obstacle avoidance while maintaining speed.

Once you’ve opened the Skydio app, you're welcomed by the drone’s point of view on your smartphone screen, which will allow you to tap on someone within that field of view and select your target.

AI-Powered Drone Will Follow You Around and Take Pictures

With high-quality drones now available for just a few hundred dollars, many consumers and businesses are taking to the skies.

Entrepreneur Adam Bry argues that the drones on the market today are missing a key component needed to make them useful—the intelligence to fly autonomously.

“If you’re an expert operator you can do really incredible things, but for mainstream users we’re just not there yet.” The company’s first product is something like a flying, robotic camera crew.

It harnesses the deep-learning techniques used by companies like Google to power image search that helps identify and track peopleagainst their background.

“Our bet is there’s this transition to autonomous in consumer [first], and then in industrial and commercial.” Bry previously helped establish Google’s drone delivery program and was named to MIT Technology Review’s list of 35 young innovators in 2016.

A tiny startup has made big strides in creating self-navigating drones

Some of the biggest news out of CES this year was the huge progress companies have made on technology that can help drones be aware of their surroundings, allowing them to sense objects and avoid collisions.

Adam Bry and Abe Bachrach were in the robust robotics program, researching ways to build aircraft that could fly themselves without GPS, culminating in a fixed wing drone with a laser range finder that autonomously navigated its way around a parking lot.

After a year and a half, the pair left Google X and along with Matt Donahoe, who they met at MIT’s Media Lab, set out to create a system to power self-navigating drones using only the commodity chips and and sensors you would find in your average smartphone.

Skydio is betting that they can achieve robust sense and avoid using only ordinary cameras, instead of the lasers, sonar, and depth of field cameras we saw at CES.

The unit had no GPS, which is how a normal drone would orient itself, but after takeoff it hovered completely in place, holding its position as well as or better than any drone I’ve seen.

Right now a bulky controller is the command prompt of drones 'Right now this is the command prompt on a drone,' said Bry, hefting the RC flight controller, with its two joysticks and multitude of buttons and switches.

As it gets better— and assuming the FAA allows the consumer drone trend to continue — it will be employed in more autonomous situations, like filming your kid on the soccer field or checking out a leaky roof to see what needs a fix.

'It’s going to be a very long term project to make a perfect, robust system, but I think in five or six years you will just trust the unit,' says Bry.

Skydio drone can actually follow you while avoiding trees

Drones with the ability to follow the user and shoot video or still images are out there right now.

Put the same tracking drone into a forest environment with random tree branches and trunks and the drone is unable to avoid those obstacles.

company called Skydio has unveiled a drone that is capable of following a user and shooting video or still shots in a complex random environment like a forest path.

This tech could one day lead to delivery drones able to get packages cheaply and safely to customers in real world environments.

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Daredevil Drone Flies Through the Trees Like an Ace

Startup Skydio has developed a more sophisticated autopilot for drones. Beyond obstacle avoidance, it lets an aircraft orient itself and navigate through busy areas. Facebook:

Research and Development at MIT

Projects from the Robust Robotics Group at MIT.

Skydio: Product Testing

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Skydio Prototyping

Early testing of Skydio's computer vision based navigation system.