Part 107 pilots beware, Skydio is NOT your friend
This week Drone Deploy has their conference and in one of the presentations, it becomes clear for Part 107 pilots that Skydio is not their friend. Skydio envisions a future without drone pilots and one that is not allowed under the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone regulations.
Part 107 pilots beware, Skydio is NOT your friend
When Skydio first came out with their Skydio R1 drone in 2018, I was blown away. It was so far ahead of what any other drone could do in terms of obstacle avoidance and autonomous flying capabilities. It felt like a drone from the future had arrived at my doorstep. Fast forward to late 2019. I got excited again when I saw what the U.S. drone maker had in store for us with the Skydio 2. A more capable, smaller drone for less money. What was not to like about that?
However, since then my excitement for Skydio has eroded significantly. I will explain why below. And, if you're a Part 107 drone pilot you might just agree.
In response to Skydio unwittingly posting a video that was taken with a Skydio drone in Yellowstone Park, co-founder and CEO Adam Bry responded by saying that his company wants ‘to encourage people to use our products responsibly.‘
However, if you look at the Skydio website, the Promotion of the Skydio 2 promises that the drone ‘immediately turns both consumers and enterprise users into expert pilots,' with ‘the most advanced flying AI on the planet.' Further down on their website they even go as far as saying that,
“It does the flying, you do the doing.”
The introduction video of the Skydio 2 even says “Flying itself – No pilot” at the bottom of the screen in many of the shots.
It is obvious that the main selling point for the Skydio 2 is the fact that you don't have to fly this drone. You do not even have to know how to fly this drone, because it will fly itself. Now that sounds very appealing but, it is not quite in line with what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires from you, as a drone pilot.
Here's what the FAA has to say about autonomously flying drones and their operators:
However, the remote pilot in command must retain the ability to direct the small unmanned aircraft to ensure compliance with the requirements of part 107.
Accordingly, this rule will require that the remote pilot in command have the ability to direct the small unmanned aircraft to ensure compliance with the provisions of part 107. In particular, the FAA emphasizes the requirements of §§ 107.37 and 107.39, which require the small unmanned aircraft to yield the right of way to all other users of the NAS and to avoid flying over a human being who is not directly participating in the small UAS operation and not under a covered structure.
So the promotion of self-flying drones and immediately turning people into expert pilots by letting the drone do all the flying does not seem to stroke with the rules from the FAA.
However, when you see some of the slides from Skydio that were presented during the Drone Deploy conference things get even more irresponsible, and it becomes clear that Skydio is not your friend if you are a Part 107 pilot.
In this first slide, Skydio promotes a 65% cost reduction by getting rid of most Part 107 pilots. The company also promotes ‘teleoperation' that ‘lets one pilot fly multiple drones.' Both the costs-savings and the ‘teleoperation' of multiple drones by one pilot are misleading as it goes directly against the FAA rules for responsible drone flying.
The FAA says:
The FAA also emphasizes that, as discussed in section III.E.3.b.ii of this preamble, a person cannot act as a remote pilot in command in the operation of more than one small unmanned aircraft. Thus, this rule does not allow a person to use automation to simultaneously operate more than one small unmanned aircraft.
In this second slide from Skydio, they claim that a UAS Program Manager from a major US Railway company has said the following:
We want to train 100 pilots this year, 200 next year, and zero pilots in 2022.
Obviously, with the help of autonomous Skydio drones, such as the Skydio S2 and X2.
Skydio makes a comparison between manual drones and autonomous drones as being similar to flip phones versus smartphones.
And, Skydio points to the fact that the risk of crashes is the #1 concern among enterprise customers, something that can be resolved with autonomous drones as even the best-trained pilots crash manual drones.
The future according to Skydio is one without any drones pilot with their fingers at the sticks. Skydio considers manual drones as the past and unmanned aircraft with AI-driven autonomy as the future. Never mind that the FAA rules currently do not allow that.
So, in conclusion, it seems fair to say that if you are a responsible Part 107 pilot, Skydio is not your friend. This company envisions a future where drone operators are marginalized and where AI and computer-learning prevail over common sense, experience, and manual skills, such as flying a drone in ATTI mode.
Curious to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.
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Haye, we respectfully disagree with your conclusions, which seem to be based on a misunderstanding of Part 107 and the technology. Autonomy is not only legal under Part 107, but it is also proving to be extremely beneficial for pilots and the industry opening up new use cases and growth. The reality on the ground could not be further from the scenario you described. To learn more check out our blog post. https://medium.com/skydio/autonomy-is-the-new-opportunity-for-part-107-drone-operators-51eb8d06841e
The vision that Skydio promotes here, and in the bulk of their marketing presentations, is for the future. They focus on the ROI for enterprise customers. There are different drones for different requirements. Just like you can’t fly a cinema camera, RTK, thermal, full frame, etc. on this airframe, means that there are different requirements and needs for pilots and other airframes. While the FAA rules may not completely echo this vision currently, you can bet that there are many in the industry angling for safety and use cases where not having an operator makes sense. These slides are not about the drone service provider, they are about allowing knowledgeable workers to keep focusing on the things they are experts at, and not have their hands on the sticks. Even specialized 107 pilots should recognize that the drone is a tool to gather the raw imagery that is turned into actionable reports and data. I have worked in all sides of this from pilot to hiring company to manufacturer, and this article is taking too narrow of a view. The opportunity for 107 pilots is not going away anytime soon, they just need to focus on areas where pilot knowledge, skills, and awareness are vital now and for the future. The overall bend of this article is much like the scared view of manufacturing workers with the oncoming modernization of the production process. Automation is not here to put people out of a job, it is here to help focus knowledgeable workers on things that actually need their attention and expertise.
I just read this looking for release info on the Skydio x2 and this article popped up and was intriguing based on Skydio not being your friend.
After reading it, I feel you miss their (Skydio’s) target audience. Action Sports (atv, biking, etc.), Engineering, and Public Safety. AI piloting is and will be apart of the future. For the now, it makes sense to have as I’m in the market for a new drone for said ATV, biking, motorcycling, etc. shots to where I can get shots of me vs me doing all the piloting for others. Now from a engineering and public safety view, it makes sense as well. The ability to have anyone be able to fly an investment and not crash it because of lack of experience get costly real fast. That type of investment then becomes a true turnkey solution with minimal training. It’s a no brainer. Scott pointed that out as well.
What I’m also gathering from this read is that you may have a fear of losing control of something you purchases or feel it’s becoming a dangerous tool and it being used for more bad than good by introducing AI. I get it and can relate to a degree but the fact of the matter is, control has already been lost… also, to a degree. Just look at the automotive industry and everyone (the masses) wanting self driving cars. The gateway to that is EVs. What’s driving that is distracted driving and people wanting to multitask while being behind the wheel. There are several solution to that problem of which one I highly endorse is to get rid of of automatic transmissions. True it wont fully solve the problem but it does extremely limit the distraction time behind the wheel. I digress.
In short, Skydio is ahead of the times and their targeted audience is consumers and enterprises looking for quick ROI, low startup and maintenance and low pilot error mishaps. Like they said. ‘immediately turns both consumers and enterprise users into expert pilots.’ If I want a drone that I fully have control over, I’ll use a different manufactured one that lack all the AI bells and whistles. Drones are like everything else, personal preference.
Preach brother, preach!
I personally have a Skydio 2 and several DJI products. I can say that each have pros and cons. The Skydio isn’t perfect but still the only one worth mentioning as DJI’s active track is a joke in comparison to the S2. It can and does crash but it’s not likely. Power lines, and thin bare branches (without leaves), are likely to get clipped or cause a crash. Luckily the battery is magnetically held in so during a crash it separates to create a lower drone weight, thus lowering risk of damage or injury.
Now as far as distance is concerned, S2 is not anywhere near DJI for distance. The Mavic 2 pro has a 1” sensors manual customization, which S2 does not. DJI has some time obstacle avoidance but it’s pretty much a joke. S2 avoids stuff in every single mode and quite well at that. Add the gps beacon, and it’s virtually impossible to have the drone lose sight of u. So if your looking for something to film action sports, the S2 is perfect. Just make sure to get the gps beacon, extra props, and at least 2x batteries, and possibly the dual charger.