Self-flying Skydio drone tracks its subject through the trees

Follow me modes have been a welcome addition to camera drones in recent years, but they still fall well short of promise of the aircraft automatically weaving between trees and creating beautifully smooth imagery of their subjects. But if the demo footage that accompanies the newly announced Skydio R1 drone is anything to go by, such entirely handsfree forms of fantastical film-making could soon be a reality.

Skydio is a drone startup formed by a team of MIT graduates that bills its aircraft as the first fully autonomous flying camera. At this point it is no different to a raft of other camera drones that track a subject on screen as they move through an environment, but such capabilities are generally shown off through slick promotional videos than raw video from the drone in flight.

That’s what is most impressive about the R1 at launch. A video purported to be a single, continuous clip captured autonomously by the drone shows a woman flipping off fallen trunks and over rocks beneath low-hanging branches, with the drone seemingly navigating the dense shrubbery without too much trouble at all. Check it out here.

We have seen similar tech before as part of MIT research back in 2015, which showed a fixed-wing drone zipping through trees at 30 mph (48 km/h), though that was far from a consumer product. Intel also made a splash at CES in 2016 when it showed the Yuneec Typhoon H drone (powered by Intel hardware) avoiding a falling tree, though it didn’t share the footage captured by the aircraft during the demo.

The R1 drone, which is four years in the making, does seem to raise the bar for this sort of tech given the quality of the sample footage. Granted, this is also just promotional material, so we’ll need to wait until we get our hands on one to see how it really performs, but the early signs are certainly impressive.

It uses 13 onboard cameras and inertial measurement units to construct a map of its environment and track a person in the space. Deep learning algorithms allow it to separate obstacles from subjects and then motion planning software allows it to move safely through the environment while keeping its target in shot.

Also impressive are the specs and features of the R1, although there is nothing we really haven’t seen on other drones to be launched of late. It can be simply released into the air to launch and start filming in 4K, and it can either be flown manually through a companion smartphone app, or through a set of autonomous filming modes that orbit a subject, track it from the side, from the front or behind. The company sees no need for a separate joystick controller.

Equipped with 64 GB of onboard storage, the R1 drone has a range of 300 ft (91 m) and a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h. It comes with two batteries, each of which provide 16 minutes of flight time. It weighs in at 2.2 lb (1 kg).

The Skydio R1 drone is available now in the US and Canada for a price of US$2,499. Check out the video below for more demo footage captured by the drone in action.

See more at-