Firstly, the key words with the Skydio R1 are ‘Consumer’ and ‘Fully Autonomous.’ Being aimed at the consumer market usually means a budget version, but in this case, the term refers more to more general use than anything else as the unit still has plenty of software and hardware trickery.
‘Fully Autonomous’ means that the Redwood City, California start-up company is giving a regular drone user scope for using the drone with no additional help. Imagine, you can go out on a bike trail or down a snowy mountain and this drone will intelligently follow you flying in whatever flying mode you deem fit for the best footage.
So there’s more than the usual common or garden technology in this drone, like an Nvidia processor as found in some autonomous cars for mapping the surroundings, high-end cameras, and sensors. The whole idea behind the artificial intelligence set up is to pose the question, “what can be done with this device?” In other words, for any application from action sports to simply filming yourself solo, it’s like you have your own personal cameraman who automatically follows you and decides on the best camera angles, allowing you to get on with the activity in hand. Very sci-fi.
The outward appearance of the Skydio R1 looks quite different to other drones. It’s 1.5 inches tall and 13 x 16 inches wide, so it’s not exactly compact, but this isn’t a problem considering everything stuffed into this package. The unit has the customary four propellers enclosed by a nonremovable prop guard, a long slim central body, USB-C charge port, 4K front main camera on a two-axis gimbal, and 13 smaller cameras.
The Skydio R1 uses a mix of the cameras and other sensors to track its environment and subjects. The Skydio R1 doesn’t even come with a controller, as everything is operated through an app. Definitively showing the Skydio R1 as a fully autonomous drone.
The drone comes with 64GB onboard storage (no SD cards) good for about an hour and a half of 4K footage from two batteries, each being good for around 60 minutes of flight time.
The phone app connects via Wi-Fi, performs preliminary fight checks, and checks its surroundings for nearby obstacles. You do have some manual controls with the device, although limited, such as basic movement, yaw, camera panning up and down, and subject tracking. Simply tap on a Subject you wish to track and the drone will lock into position depending on the various capture modes available.
Tracking modes include follow, orbit, lead, side and tripod and can be changed mid-flight. Due to the prediction and path planning functionality, all the Skydio R1 movements are very smooth and results in very natural looking footage.
The Skydio R1 is quite adept at tracking most moving subjects, but it’s not completely flawless. If you are flying in tight spaces, or with fast-moving subjects the R1 can lose track. If so, the drone will notify you via the app and hover until you give it instructions to move on.
The output of the 4K footage is good quality, but you had better be happy with the results as is as there’s not much scope for changing settings. The drone starts shooting from takeoff and can offer a lower resolution clip and/or lo-res still frame. If still images are your priority with a drone, you’re still better off with a DJI model.
For video types, the lack of manual features will be frustrating, but you can understand why everything is automatic, as the drone is aimed at the consumer market and to be fully autonomous, also means autonomous ways of capturing video. In other words, initially, the drone is aimed at people who just high-quality, usable video straight out of the tin without any hassle.
How Does It Compare?
The Skydio R1 has clearly pushed the boundaries of autonomous drones, but DJI is still the main player in this market. The DJI Mavic Air has loads of functionality and costs far less. Although the Mavic Air still needs a controller, it still has plenty of self-piloting modes. DJI models are not as sophisticated at flying solo as the R1, but this is the specialism of the Skydio.
However, the DJI is arguably more rounded as it can take HD stills plus video (the Skydio R1 can capture lo-res images) with many more options from video formats to tweaking the exposure, ISO, white balance, and slow motion. The R1 is fully auto. which means that the Mavic Air is a better option if you want to have more options and control of both stills and video. However, Skydio says that the drone and app will have future over the air updates bringing in more shooting functionality.
|Skydio R1||DJI Mavic Air|
|Camera||1/2.3″ sensor||1/2.3” CMOS|
|Flight time||16 minutes||21 minutes|
The autonomous features of the Skydio R1 are what sets this drone apart from the rest. The company has definitely pushed the technology so the average consumer can capture fantastic drone footage in the easiest way possible. If you’re okay with auto 4K video only and want to take advantage of fully autonomous flight, then it seems the Skydio R1 is the obvious choice. Problem is the unit costs $2,499 at the time of writing, which could buy you the equivalent of a bunch of DJI drones.
The price point is going to limit who buys the R1 to a smaller selection of consumers and scenarios where solo flying is the only option. If the price is not a consideration, then this is a fantastic drone for any type of action video as you can truly concentrate on your activity rather than flying duties. The scope of creativity has also been opened up by this drone and shows the way for future models.
DJI will probably catch up soon, but there’s nothing around yet which is as advanced for autonomous flight as the Skydio R1. If future software updates can address the video functionality and bring in HD still images, then the high price point will be more justifiable. As just an autonomous drone, it’s definitely in a league of its own, but if you want a more all-round drone for stills and video, DJI models are still some of the best and cost less.