skydio, a san francisco-based startup founded by three MIT alumni, has recently developed an autonomous video capturing drone officially changing the game for everyone. dubbed the ‘selfie drone’ it has the ability to track and film a subject in 4K, while cleverly navigating any environment and reaching speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. 

autonomous selfie drone tracks users whilst freely navigating the environment
all images courtesy of skydio



called R1, the artificial intelligence-powered quadcopter captures omnidirectional video using its 13 cameras to map and interpret the world in real-time, letting it safely avoid obstacles as it films you. more like a driverless car with level-four autonomy R1’s system integrates advanced algorithm components spanning perception, planning, and control, which give it unique intelligence. app connectivity can be used to launch and land the drone as well as presetting it to certain filming and flying conditions. 

autonomous selfie drone tracks users whilst freely navigating the environment



the system uses computer vision to determine the location of objects while a deep neural network compiles information allowing the drone to build up a unique visual identification of each individuals. this allows the drone to tell people apart and focus on the right individual. that data feeds into a motion-planning system, which pinpoints a subject’s location and predicts their next move. it also recognizes maneuvering limits in one area to optimize filming. finally, the control system takes all information to execute the drone’s plan in real time.


the concept for the R1 started taking shape almost a decade ago at MIT, where the co-founders — adam Bry SM ’12, abraham bacharach phd ’12, and matt donahoe SM ’11 — first met and worked on advanced, prize-winning autonomous drones. bry and bachrach were the first full-time engineering hires for google’s project wing, the X lab’s drone delivery initiative. skydio launched in 2014 and is releasing the R1 to consumers this week. the lightweight drone can fit into an average backpack and is available to purchase for $2,500. ‘our goal with our first product is to deliver on the promise of an autonomous flying camera that understands where you are, understands the scene around it, and can move itself to capture amazing video you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get,‘ says bry, co-founder and CEO of skydio.

autonomous selfie drone tracks users whilst freely navigating the environment



to engage the drone users swipe up on the skydio app (a manual control option is also available), which prompts the R1 to lift off. it then identifies the user, and begins recording and tracking, operating completely autonomously, staying anywhere from 10 feet to 30 feet away from a subject, autonomously, or 300 feet away, manually, depending on wi-fi availability. the drone boasts some other clever functionalities too including safe landing when battery is low if the user doesn’t respond. after the flight — which can last about 16 minutes, depending on speed and use — users can store captured video or upload it to social media.

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