Drones

Skydio 2 Assessment from 9 Ten Drones

This deep dive Skydio 2 review provides first person experience from pro pilot Paul Rossi.  With videos, images, and everything you need to know about Skydio 2 from battery to flight experience and support options, this is the review you’ll want to read before buying.

The following Skydio 2 review is authored by Paul Rossi: Chief Operations Officer and Chief Pilot at Nine Ten Drones, a North Carolina-based drone services, training, and reseller company.  Check out another Paul Rossi review of Autel’s EVO II here.

Skydio began shipping their first batch of the Skydio 2 (aka “S2”) to customers in December of 2019 and throughout 2020 the S2 managed to gain more and more popularity not for what it was doing but for the things we continue to be told it will do “in the future”. With a reservation for a first batch S2, I received my drone in March of 2020. For the past 10 months I’ve been operating the S2 with Nine Ten Drones in various environments with a range of clients in various industries. I’m amazed by the S2’s ability to navigate autonomously, avoid obstacles and track subjects unlike any other drone I ever seen or flown. However, I am deeply unimpressed by the drone’s inability to integrate into the commercial space for multiple reasons to include its limited camera, low flight time and borrowed remote controller.

Skydio 2 Review: The Drone

One of the first things you will notice about the S2 is that the forward motors are mounted upside down. This upside down design feature is in contrast to other readily available commercial off the shelf drones which have all motors mounted on the top (excluding the newly released DJI M300). The forward motors are mounted upside down to eliminate interference with the top mounted 4k navigation cameras. In total the drone has six (6) 4k navigation cameras, three mounted on the top and three mounted on the bottom totaling 45 megapixels constantly focused on visual sensing.

The drone is sleek and weighs in at just 1.7 pounds. While the drone does not “fold up” it still maintains very a small footprint. For $999 you get a compact drone that can easily be packed up and carried on an airplane or stored in a backpack for a road trip. The S2 can also be packed into its rugged hard case, similar in size to the Mavic 2 and EVO II hard cases, with plenty of space for extra batteries and all accessories.

What makes this drone such a great fit for recreational use is the ability to capture phenomenal content when paired with a phone and absolutely zero drone flying experience. It’s worth mentioning that the drone alone is practically RTF. All that is needed is an Android or Apple device to get the S2 airborne. Once its flying with tracking initiated you can put the phone or tablet away. I don’t know if this is technically within FAA regulation but if the FAA trusts the S2 with flight BVLOS then it may be okay with recreational “pocket piloting”.

You cannot add any external accessories or devices to the S2 because they will adversely affect the cameras used for autonomous navigation and situational awareness. This limits the drones ability to integrate within various industries.

The Battery

Keeping in line with engineering a drone unlike any other Skydio introduced the S2 with a bottom mount battery that is magnetically secured in place. Really think about it, the drone is flying along with the battery “hanging” to the bottom by a magnet. The S2 battery design is revolutionary engineering at its finest.

Skydio is advertising up to 23 minutes of flight with a single S2 battery. After multiple test flights at the Nine Ten Drones training facility in Fayetteville, NC we have averaged a max flight time of just over 21 minutes. In each of our test flights we flew the S2 battery down to 4% or less which we DO NOT recommend anyone do on a regular basis.

19 to 22 minutes of flight, when compared to other drones currently available, is a short time to fly on a single battery, leaving little time to get the job done or just have fun. After flying the Skydio battery down below 5% multiple times the average time to charge the battery back to 100% was just over 63 minutes.

If you don’t buy the Skydio 2 Dual Charger (currently out of stock) you will have to charge your S2 batteries directly through your drone. Be cautious when charging your batteries this way as the drone will get very hot.

Additional batteries will cost $115 with each “upgrade kit” offering an additional 2-3 battery.

(Note: While writing this review, I spoke with an S2 customer who experienced a “Catastrophic Battery Failure” which led to loss of all power mid-flight. Have you experienced an S2 battery failure?)

The Remote

The Skydio 2 remote is the Parrot Anafi Remote which lacks the commercial/enterprise qualities I have come to expect from a drone that is to be considered “more than a toy”. This is twice now we have seen a company release a new drone to market without a new remote. (Autel released the EVO II last year using the EVO remote controller, bummed we haven’t seen Autel release a new and improved remote for the EVO II but hey clearly it’s easier to make a great drone then a decent remote)

The remote for the S2 is limited with few extras. With a phone or tablet mounted the remote becomes very top heavy. For the recreational and entry level commercial users this remote will work. It would be great if Skydio released a new remote in 2021 with HDMI out and a better design that allows the remote to be set down without falling over, is tripod mountable and has a single “tie point” for harness mounting.

Skydio is marketing a 2.2 mile max operational range while using the remote controller, which again, like the battery, is well below what the competition is offering. During testing, Nine Ten Drones found a max transmission distance of 0.6 miles while operating in a suburban neighborhood near a main road lined with commercial businesses. With that being said, we had no issues with connectivity while conducting an array of commercial and recreational operations within visual line of sight. The operational range of the remote will vary depending upon the location you are operating in.

The Beacon

The Skydio 2 Beacon is an awesome addition to the S2 kit. Control the S2 with the movement of your hand from up to .9 miles away. You can also use the beacon for precision GPS tracking. The S2 can perform GPS tracking unlike other drones that require a very clear visual reference to maintain visual tracking. Once activated, the S2 will track the beacon up to 100 meters away without any visual. The Skydio 2 Beacon is a very fun accessory however under the current Part 107 regulations it has limited commercial value outside of the video production space.

Right now the industry is almost ready for the advanced operations that the Skydio Beacon can support.

S2 Camera Specifications

  • Sony IMX586 1/2.3” CMOS Image Sensor
  • 3MP Image Capture
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • 4k @ 24, 30, 48, 60 fps
  • JPG and DNG

Skydio Premier Support

Turn your one-year warranty into a two-year commitment with Skydio Premier Support. Upgrade to a “priority tier of customer service” for a one-time payment of $749. With this elevated level of customer support when you need help you will be able to get in contact with Skydio “right away”. Possibly the most important benefit of this priority tier is Skydio’s commitment to sending you a new drone before they even get your old, damaged drone back.

Compared to other manufacturer repair/support I am not sure where this stands. Little information is provided on the Skydio other then what was discussed above. $749 is a lot of cash up front considering the drone itself is valued at no more than $999. Are there fees associated with repair/replacement during the two-year commitment? How many repair/replacements are allowed during the two-year commitment?

Flying the Skydio 2

The Skydio 2 has the most advanced tracking capabilities I have ever seen and is almost impossible to crash. The Skydio 2 flight application is easy to navigate and displays all the important information needed for safe flying directly over the camera’s live feed. Sticking with the theme “Unlike”, the S2 can be flown, with very limited range, using only your Apple or Android device without the physical remote controller drone pilots have become accustomed to. Manually flying the S2 with only your phone is like flying a steroid injected Ryze Tello and it is not easy or suitable for video capture while moving. You also have the option to pilot the aircraft by making repetitive taps on the screen which will help with moving video capture and it’s also just a fun way to fly.

Lastly with just your phone connected you can put Skydio 2 into any one of its highly advanced active tracking flight modes.

Flying the S2 with the remote controller affords you all of the same flight options for tracking while increasing your operational range well beyond phone only fight. While flying the S2 manually with the remote for the first time it felt like I was driving a tractor trailer with a Honda Civic engine in it. It is sluggish and slow with a top speed of 11mph, a fraction of the top speed offered by similar products available. It is still sluggish and slow months later.

The S2 in manual flight is constantly telling the pilot the “right” way to get from “A” to “B”. The Skydio 2 will always trust itself over the operator. Without any previous flight experience you can launch the S2 and safely pilot around obstacles for fun or even commercially with a little more piece of mind depending upon the operation.

You can try flying your S2 at night but chances are you won’t be able to get off the ground. Without an adequate amount of light the drone will not takeoff and will attempt to prevent continued operation if airborne and lighting conditions degrade. Because you cannot attach any lighting to the S2 this drone becomes a paperweight when the sun goes down.

Just remember the S2 will not fly without the “proper” SD card inserted. The S2 requires a UHS Speed Class 3 (U3/V30 or faster) microSD card that is properly formatted otherwise it will not fly. For recreational and commercial users that can fly or operate with only the live feed, not needing to capture photos or record video, this is tough. Similar drones available will fly without an SD card while also providing internal storage for backup. How awful would it be to get to the beach on vacation and not be able to put up your drone because you forgot your SD card. Also it would be terrible to respond to a Search and Rescue operation and not be able to put a drone up because a lack of SD card.

Skydio 2 and DroneDeploy

The photos you capture with the Skydio 2 can be turned into high resolution 2D maps and 3D models using photogrammetry software. Using the DroneDeploy mission planning software you can easily capture the overlapping imagery required to create both maps and 3D models. Currently DroneDeploy is the only drone mapping SaaS that supports the S2.

The S2 is not the drone for mapping large sites due to the limitations of the 12mp sensor and 22 minute flight time. With just 12mp you will need to fly lower for higher detail while producing more images when compared to operating a comparable drone with 20mp sensor. Another key to mapping efficiently with drones is flight time. The less flight time a battery provides, the more you need to conduct large scale operations.

Below is a link to a 3D model created using photos captured with the Skydio 2 and processed with DroneDeploy by Nine Ten Drones – https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/skydio-2-w-dronedeploy-nine-ten-drones-fe6ec5bd381843af92ec446fda3754c0.

Spatial Awareness

Skydio is helping users stay safe in the air by providing a drone that flies for them. Never has a commercial off the shelf drone had the obstacle recognition and avoidance capabilities half as good as the S2. The S2 has six (6) 4k navigation cameras each with the following specs:

  • Sony 1/3.06 ”
  • Lens – f/2.5

At its core is a NVIDIA Tegra X2 main processor that enables the S2 to track people and motor vehicles at speeds up to 35 mph while effortlessly avoiding almost all obstacles. The following statement is directly from the Skydio website explains what obstacles the S2 may not recognize:

“Skydio 2 can’t see certain visually challenging obstacles. Do not fly around thin branches, telephone or power lines, ropes, netting, wires, chain link fencing or other objects less than ½ inch in diameter.”

Using words to describe the highly advanced autonomous flight performance of the Skydio 2 is almost impossible. You have to see it to believe it, hopefully these videos help you understand.

 

 

 

 

One of the major downsides to the S2’s dependency on its navigation cameras for successful flight is they do not function at night and in low light environments. What this means is your drone will not launch and becomes non-operational under these conditions.

Skydio Case Landing

 

Advanced AI Skills

$1,499 a year per drone for the Advanced AI Skills which consists of the following features:

  • Superzoom
  • Point-of-interest Orbit (Free with Autel/DJI/Parrot drones)
  • Track In Place (Free with Autel/DJI drones)
  • Close Proximity Obstacle Avoidance
  • Vertical View (Free with Parrot drones)
  • Visual Return-to-Home
  • Precision Mode (Free with Autel/DJI drones)

This seems a high price to pay in order to have access to what others provide as standard at this point. With Skydio not affording their S2 customers a trial period to demo or test run the Advanced AI Skills it is somewhat difficult for most to make the commitment. Skydio did offer three (3) years access to the Advanced AI Skills for $2,998 but even with that offer it’s still not making up for the lack of a trial period or hands on demonstration.

Skydio House Scan

Skydio House Scan is not –  and, as far as we know,  will not –  be made available to the general public. House Scan is a product developed by EagleView, a company whose product is aerial imagery and property reports, for use internally by their network of operators. Eagle View purchased a large number of Skydio 2 drones, and released a press release about House Scan  – some customers thought they would be scanning homes in no time with their newly preordered S2.

Skydio 2 Kit Pricing

Starter Kit – $999.00

  • S2 drone, battery, propellers, charger, device cables and carrying case.

Sports Kit – $1,499.00

  • S2 drone, beacon, three batteries, dual battery charger, propellers, charger, device cables, 128GB SD card and carrying case.

Cinema Kit – $1,899.00

  • S2 drone, remote controller, beacon, three batteries, dual battery charger, ND filters, propellers, charger, device cables, 128GB SD card, carrying case and rugged hard-shell case.

Pro Kit – $2,499.00

  • S2 drone, remote controller, beacon, four batteries, dual battery charger, ND filters, tablet holder, propellers, charger, device cables, 128GB SD card, carrying case and rugged hard-shell case.
  • Includes Skydio Premier Support which entitles you to advance replacement.

Skydio 2 Summary

If you are a content creator looking to add aerial imagery to your lineup then the Skydio 2 is 100%, zero questions asked, most certainly the drone for you.

If you are just getting started with drones, either recreationally or commercially, and want to hone your piloting skills don’t get the S2. Find yourself something much less expensive with a longer flight time. Fly often in order to gradually improve your skills. Consider buying local from a dealer that includes no or low cost familiarization training.

If you’re a commercial operator you should not be launching your drone program with the Skydio 2 unless your business happens to be one of the outliers that specifically requires high performance tracking and great obstacle awareness and avoidance. However, if you operate a fleet of sUAS and have $2,500-4,000 of funds available you should give some thought to adding the Skydio 2 to your lineup.

Skydio created an awesome drone when they developed the S2 however they are asking you to make big dollar commitments on both software and hardware while providing no local support after the sales transactions is over. Remember to talk with folks who have experience and insight and ask lots of questions.

Paul Rossi is the Chief Operations Officer and Chief Pilot at Nine Ten Drones, a N. C.-based drone services company, training center, and reseller.  Rossi is also the Outreach Coordinator for the North Carolina Chapter of AUVSI.  A graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and the U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School, Rossi is passionate about the aviation industry.  He holds both a private pilot’s license for manned aircraft and a Part 107 Remote Pilot’s Certificate.  You can see more videos and product information on the Nine Ten Drones YouTube channel.

Related Articles