Meet R1, the First Self-Flying 4K Drone

This autonomous drone from Skydio can be flown without expertise.

10 years ago, MIT classmates Adam Bry, Abraham Bacharach, and Matt Donahoe had a great idea. As the drone market was expanding, they wondered: What if we created an autonomous, video-capturing drone? A decade later, their product has come to market.

The R1, developed by the MIT grads' start-up, Skydio, is the first professional-grade drone that can be flown without expertise. Geared toward "rock climbers, hikers, runners, dancers, or anyone who likes recording themselves while in motion," according to MIT News, the R1 is equipped with 13 onboard cameras that capture omnidirectional video. The artificial intelligence-powered quadcopter shoots 4K video while mapping its environment in real-time, planning paths and avoiding obstacles in order to capture moving targets. 

The R1 launches and lands through an app, which can be preset to modes such as “orbit” (360-degree shots), “lead” (follow and film a subject from the front) or "stadium" (for field sports, in which the drone stays above and moves around the action). The app also displays live video previews of footage. If desired, the drone can be flown manually by changing the settings in the app.

“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,” Bry, co-founder and CEO of Skydio, said in a press release.

The R1 is powered by the Nvidia Jetson TX1 computer, which is often used as the brain of prototype self-driving car systems. Skydio’s software combines advanced autonomous-control algorithms with the data the R1 captures in the field using a deep neural network to navigate its environment. “For each person it sees, it builds up a unique visual identification to tell people apart and stays focused on the right person,” Bry told MIT News.

According to Skydio, the product is built with cutting-edge aerospace materials in a slim design that fits in your backpack.

Technical specificationsCredit: Skydio

Of course, we hope the R1 doesn't entirely replace the role of the drone operator, especially if you want your shots to look cinematic. As NFS-er Randall Esulto recently wrote in his advice for hiring a good drone pilot: "A knowledgeable and skilled drone operator knows how to go beyond the obvious and use their drone to do a lot more than capture high establishing shots."

The R1 is now on sale for $2,499. It ships in about three weeks.     

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The tech is amazing, but $2,499 is going to be a bit steep for people who would have a use for it. The video quality and erratic movement of the drone doesn't make it ideal for professional use, unfortunately. Cool piece of gear, but they are going to need to find a way to lower the price substantially when you have great, easy to use drones like the Mavic air that are a 1/3 of the price and have far superior video quality.

March 23, 2018 at 3:59PM, Edited March 23, 4:00PM