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Part 107 pilots beware Skydio is NOT your friend

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.

Flying drones as a career?

If you want to turn your hobby into your career, practice how to fly your drone safely, and learn what it takes to get your Part 107, be sure to check out the excellent training modules from The Drone U.

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Haye Kesteloo

3 comments

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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.

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