Skydio, the maker of the sensor packed R1 camera drone, is launching an update to its iPhone app that allows Apple Watch owners to fly a drone from their wrist. Most people don’t think of Apple stores as a good place to buy a drone, but they are now selling one of the most interesting drones for consumers.
At select locations, Apple will sell the high-end drone Skydio R1, which costs US$1,999, and is designed by a company founded, by former MIT students and Google employees. Skydio is backed with $70 million from elite startup investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Ventures, according to PitchBook data.
Users will be able to control the Skydio R1 from an Apple Watch- giving it directions to follow them or capture certain glamorous shots of their outdoor activities like biking or running. Pilots can automatically takeoff and land, and pick a subject to track and then trigger one of the R1’s new shooting modes. These include options like “cable-cam” and selfie shots, even allowing users to record things like dramatic pull-outs.
The Watch app also allows manual control, including rotation by turning the digital crown. The R1 retains automatic obstacle avoidance in this mode, which should prevent crashes. In any event an R1 can be ordered to fly back to the last known location of a pilot’s iPhone, useful when sending it out of visible range. An iPhone must be nearby to use the Watch app. The Skydio app is a free download, and requires an iPhone with iOS 11 or later.
Skydio CEO Adam Bry told Business Insider that he believes that the R1 is the most advanced self-piloting vehicle consumers can currently buy, comparing it not just to other drones, but other robots and cars as well. The Skydio is more like a robot or an autonomous camera – it uses a series of sensors and machine learning models to dodge trees, follow its subjects, and capture video or photos without a lot of manual fiddling.
Although users aren’t able to view a live preview of what the R1 is filming on the Apple Watch’s tiny screen they can control flight modes, have the R1 follow and even pick individual people for the drone to follow and film.
Skydio’s most promising feature is that it allows users to spend less time piloting a drone, but it still can capture the kind of overhead and zoom-out shots that pop on social media making it a good fit for the carefully curetted Apple stores. Skydio R1 is excellent at keeping up with the subject even around sharp turns while avoiding obstacles like trees. The simplest example is just switching between modes of how Skydio R1 flies around its user: in front, behind, or beside them and close to the user too.