Autonomous features in commercially available drones are nothing new. Most every drone worth its rotors possesses some level of autonomy. But then there is Skydio’s R1, which ratchets things up a notch. Or two. The R1 is not so much a drone as it’s a flying, self positioning action camera. It is sole purpose is to record a person it is following. Built by a team of former Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers, the R1 depends on the 13 cameras studded through its exterior to see the world around it and the same NVIDIA Jetson chip utilized in self driving vehicles as a processing hub to navigate.
The R1 is purpose built for an autonomous flight, and I cannot overstate this. You literally launch the application, launch the drone, pick what filming behaviour you want the drone to expose and go on your company. Most drones have autonomous characteristics to complete their manned flight. The R1 offers manual control for the R1 nearly as an afterthought, since the autonomy is that good. The R1 uses its cameras, as opposed to GPS navigation, to generate navigational info in real time. This enables it to make quicker decisions as well as be capable to operate indoors. DJI has already made a number of advancements in this space already, however, the company’s Active Track technology does still requires a GPS navigation signal, making tracking and avoiding at the same time more careful affair.
Navigating by sight alone is a big and not a trick that many UAVs are capable of achieving, not with such speed and responsiveness, at least. What is more, the R1 can top 20 mph. That is slower than most of DJI’s drones, but fast enough to keep up with runners and bikers. The R1 does have other disadvantages. For one, its battery life’s around 16 minutes. That is just enough recording time for one, maybe two, trips down the trail before you’ve to hot swap its battery packs. There is also the problem of 64GB onboard storage, which isn’t expandable.
Granted, you will probably run through your supply of batteries before your supply of storage, but the R1’s 4K primary camera is no slouch with regards to consuming memory. In addition, the system does not work over water. The AI cannot determine how to navigate the continuously changing characteristics of lake surfaces, and the drone itself isn’t waterproof. There is also the product’s price. You can select up a DJI Phantom 4 Pro from Best Purchase, right now, for $1, 500. If you would like something with a more of an action sport focus, there is the AirDog II for $1, 299. If you would like a R1, however, you’d better sell that superfluous kidney of yours because this drones will set you back a solid $2, 500.