Skydio is leading the way in America’s surge toward the top of the drone industry. Skydio’s new head of policy affairs, Brendan Groves, hopes to help push regulators to allow the most advanced right-of-use cases Skydio — the California drone startup — is plotting. With the release of its Skydio 2 drone last fall, the company made strides on its vision for autonomous drones. Now it’s hired a head of policy to advocate for its most ambitious use cases.
A Brief History of Skydio
The CEO and Founder of Skydio, Adam Bry, helped launch Google’s drone program in early 2010 and in 2012, a time when they were concerned that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could possibly destroy the drone industry.
The growth of the drone industry has been a roller coaster ride since that period, yet Bry is very optimistic about the regulatory landscape in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry and he is excited by the way the policymaker decisions are trending at this time. He shared why he founded Skydio in 2014, “Overall, I am optimistic, but you kind of have to be when you start a company.”*
Bry compared the operation of drones to the infant stage of computing when the computer industry first began. After all, only specially trained experts and hackers were able to use the machines, and everything was done through the command prompt. But the first graphical user interface with “the first Mac and Windows totally changed the paradigm, [making it] a software-based experience accessible to way more people.”*
Vehicles had to be flown by a person with the knowledge and experience to carry out the mission in the first phase of the drone industry. However, through the relentless evolution of autonomous drones, it is now so much easier for companies to start utilizing drones as the responsibility of flying a drone is more heavily placed on the software that is powering the drone.
The Evolution of the X2
The line of drones that builds on the original R1 drone that has legitimized the potential of autonomous flight was recently announced. These are significantly more rugged unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with more portable frames, and they are also able to fly for much longer flight times.
Although the Skydio 2 drone was built for use by the consumer, the enterprise sectors were also adopting the drone because it was so easy to use. To encourage commercial sectors to adopt Skydio over its competitors, the X2 was chosen as the natural step up as it could more easily help scale drone operations through longer flight times while at the same time was able to maintain autonomous core values.
Skydio relied on customer conversations in the government, inspection and security sectors to know how they were using their products and what shortcomings they were having to be able to help design the upgraded drones. The company saw the needs across these different sections, which eventually led to the new capabilities of the X2 line.
The Drone Space
A $100 million fundraising was recently completed by Skydio to help young companies to counter the myth that American companies can’t succeed in the drone space. Bry put it: “The opportunity for a new and different kind of product that is software-centric and meets the need of consumer, enterprise, and government customers is really, really clear.”*
Creating a network of drones by linking them together will be a key component of scaling drone operations. The connectivity element of their flight, however, has brought the industry under suspicion and thereby heavy scrutiny when it comes to data security by companies whose headquarters are outside of the U.S.
The Head of Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, Brendan Groves, believes Skydio is ideally positioned for success because of its “cybersecurity and supply chain security, being in the U.S., and carefully sourcing the components.”*
Skydio brands itself as “an autonomous drone company” because it aspires to a level of push-button operation for its compact drones that exceeds what is available from top competitors like DJI. Therefore it enlisted Groves as head of regulatory and policy affairs to ensure that first responders and other potential customers can legally take advantage of their most ambitious ideas.
Skydio’s timing could not come at a better time since the U.S. government is looking to buy more drones, and it does not want to buy from China. If Skydio can make fully autonomous drones — as well as help convince U.S. regulators that its technology is safe to use by virtually anyone — it might have a chance to compete for government and law enforcement contracts with the large drone companies.
Groves’ enthusiasm for Skydio is obvious by his remark that Skydio has built a drone that allows users to “focus on the mission and let the drone focus on the flying.”*
Skydio’s lead toward the top of the drone industry seems unquestionable at this time. With the release of its Skydio 2 drone last fall, the company made strides on its vision for autonomous drones. By hiring the head of policy to advocate for its most ambitious use cases, it is advancing steadily and relentlessly toward the goal of a fully autonomous drone.