Skydio schemes smarter drones that dodge and follow

Smarter drones that can auto-pilot around obstacles, track people as they walk, run, or even do extreme sports, and all by mimicking human vision could help take the buzzing camera platforms mainstream, one startup insists. Skydio is hoping to bypass the existing – and for the most part confusing – controls drones use with more onboard intelligence, processing a 2D view of the terrain around into a 3D map of what could get in the way. The result is not only a drone that could spot a tree and swoop around it, but the possibility of more intuitive navigation that requires little more than flagging a person or area as being the subject of interest.

Skydio's "drone visual cortex" is where the magic happens, with cameras feeding through computer vision algorithms that build dynamic 3D maps and the flight plans to safely navigate around them.

Currently, most drones rely on either a physical or touchscreen remote control, usually with two or more sticks to adjust altitude, direction, and speed. Sometimes, if the camera is mounted on an independently movable gimbal – such as we've seen from DJI's drones among others – there can be a further control to position that too.

Skydio's system would make things considerably more straightforward. For instance, a smartphone could be used as a "magic wand" that, when waved around, pilots the drone without needing individual input on all of the various axis.

Arguably more interesting, however, is the ability to track and follow a user or object. By flagging the subject of interest to the drone's AI, it could be relied upon to automatically keep that subject in frame at all times.

The pilot could be left to focus more on the framing of their video or photo, and less on how to pilot the drone itself to enable that capture.

Skydio has raised $3m from Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, and other seed investors, which it plans to use to shift from the current off-the-shelf prototypes to custom hardware. The goal isn't to build a full drone, but instead to provide existing manufacturers with smarter computer vision options, though that will apparently require a step up in onboard processing power.

VIA TechCrunch