Technology

AI startup drone maker pivots to military with new model

Skydio's X2 drone. Picture by special arrangement.

Skydio's X2 drone. Picture by special arrangement.  

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Skydio, a US-based autonomous drone startup, well known for its “selfie drones” that uses AI to automatically film a person cycling through a forest is putting out a new drone for commercial and defence use.

The California-based company is launching a new autonomous drone platform for enterprise and public sector, called Skydio X2. The company is also making several new software changes that will allow for a 360-degree super zoom out to map out the surrounding, and a 100x digital zoom in to narrow down targets for tracking.

With the new drone, “we’ve proven that our autonomy software can fundamentally change the way people use drones, and that an American company can not only compete, but can lead the way in AI-powered drone technology,” Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio, said in a statement.

The recent US regulations restricting the country’s government agencies from buying foreign drones may give a lift to Skydio’s ambitions to sell drones for commercial use, a market sought after by China’s DJI.

 

Skydio’s latest X2 drone has a built-in autonomous software and external ruggedized airframe with folding arms for easy “pack and go” transportation.

It is equipped with six 4k navigation cameras for 360-degree obstacle avoidance, a dual sensor payload that includes 12MP colour and 320x256 LWIR sensors, and has up to 35 minutes’ flight time.

The X2 will be made in two configurations to support the army and the general enterprise customer base. The army variant of the new drone is built for short-range reconnaissance (SRR) requirements to gather on- the-ground information, to handle search and rescue mission, and to do security patrolling.

Skydio’s X2 enterprise version is tailored for organisations, first responders and civil agencies. These devices will help in situational awareness and for inspecting building, power plants, bridges and other infrastructure.

Drone market and China

Drone Market Size 2020-2025. Source: Drone Industry Insights.

Drone Market Size 2020-2025. Source: Drone Industry Insights.  

 

The US government has reportedly allocated about $11 million to develop SRR drones, and Skydio is among the 6 firms selected by the Department of Defence to supply the equipment. Only one foreign firm, France-based Parrot, is on the list; China’s DJI is not.

Shenzhen-based DJI is a market leader in drone manufacturing, according to data intelligence firm Drone Industry Insights.

The Chinese company’s main drone types like Mavic and Phantom offer latest aviation features, advanced AI capabilities, 6-way sensing and positioning system, a drone health management system, and about 55 minutes’ flight time for commercial users.

In October 2019, US home department grounded about 800 drones that were overseeing federal land and resources on concerns related to possible cyberattacks.

All of the drones grounded was either made in China or had a part manufactured in the country. A ban on foreign drones, particularly, ones made in China, gives the US firms a broader playing field.

DJI has disputed US’s allegation that the company is transmitting data from devices to the Chinese government. It also said that users can stop their drones from sending data back to the company or connecting to the internet.

The drone market globally is set to grow to $42.8 billion by 2020, and Asia is currently the biggest regional market in the world, according to a 2020 report by Drone Industry Insights.

Within commercial use cases, energy sector is set to be the largest customer, followed by transportation and warehousing.

In terms of revenue share, Asia is fast catching up with North America. In 2018, North America was generating slightly more revenue than Asia. But now, along with China, Japan and especially India (since the legalisation of drones there in December 2018), has pulled ahead by the end of 2019, the report said.

The region will continue to build on this growth, and be the leading regional market by some margin in 2025, it added.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 12:00:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/us-autonomous-drone-maker-pivots-to-military-with-new-model/article32087915.ece

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