Skydio drones are well known for follow me, but the drones are not made for mapping. Don't write off Skydio for mapping, because they'll change the way you think about 3d modeling.
Skydio recently teased their newest "mapping" software, but don't expect to make drone maps or orthomosaics with this drone. It is easy to confuse what a drones capability may actually be capable of. Albeit, that won't stop companies like Skydio, DJI or autel from hyping features that don't exist yet. The term drone mapping is even quite vauge as industry pundits use the term to discuss 2d data sets and 3d datasets. The term drone mapping is thrown out by all drone pilot, even if they can't explain ellipsoid error.
Drones have been providing a significant amount of value for construction, engineering and surveying across the United States and the world with drone mapping. As each industry matures to better understand drones, the deliverables being used to solve problems are evolving. We used to think, if we wanted to conduct a cell tower inspection, a map would be needed. Yet a 2D orthomosaic isn't going to provide much value to a cell phone tower inspector.
While a 2d Map might not help a cell tower inspection, it would help in construction or even in disaster relief. With taller objects or complex objects, most inspectors would prefer either straight-up photos or a 3d Model.
While it is easy to confuse 2d drone mapping and 3d modeling, it is not easy to confuse the capabilities of the skydio aircraft. We clandestinely acquired a version of the Skdyio and 3d Scan software. A month ago, while in Texas we were able to test this new scanning software from Skydio. Skydio is trying to keep their new software under wraps before launch as there are still many bugs and they want to release the best version of their software.
The Skydio was tested to map a drainage area in a small west Texas town. This structure was about 35 tall and about 15 feet wide with a metal graded roof. If you're familiar with drone mapping, you can understand the difficulty of mapping lots of metal poles that are placed tightly next to each other... like the metal grate. This particular surface would challenge any drone. The surface is highly reflective and shiny. Albeit, when we tested the skydio, it was overcast. As many of you know, overcast conditions are the absolute best for drone mapping and drone modeling. While the model came out great, it didn't include a full grate.
While there are a few different types of mapping software, it is clear to note that Skydio's solution is purely for acquisition of images. Skydio is not processing data in a photogrammetry engine. In fact, after witnessing the Skydio in motion, we believe a lot of mapping/modeling softwares would really struggle processing this data. Albeit, when we tested the data it worked flawlessly in Capture Reality.
What we witnessed from the Skydio was nothing short of amazing and head scratching. The Skydio 2 first measured the object it was going to model. The Skydio 2 would fly over the object and take note of the corners of the object. Once it has calculated the size of the object, the drone then tells you how many photos (guestimate) it will take and begins the mission.
The Skydio will fly to one corner of the structure, and fly a ladder pattern. The weird part, the head scratching part.... is when the Skydio takes flight on one corner but then races to the far opposite corner. This contradicts just about every rule of flight acquisition that has ever practically worked.
And yet the Skydio 3d Model came out extremely well. The detail in the walls was amazing as the Skydio can fly up to a few feet away from an object. The Skydio has an amazing capability of shooting photos of holes and tight places.
After looking at the model produced from Skydio, it still had numerous "holes" in the model on the roof of the grate. The Skydio was modeling in ideal conditions with overcast weather. Yet it was still incapable of mapping the metal grate on the top of the structure. It isn't clear yet which drone inspection or modeling jobs will match the Skydio.
Skydio modeling software still has some work to be done. To allow multi-battery missions and to increase overlap to cover complex objects like Cell towers. While Skdyio isn't there yet for complete 3d modeling, they are close. They will get there.
Don't forget, the FAA has yet to come out and answer the question of it is truly legal to fly Skydio under Part 107... Because just as the Skdyio Manual says... the pilot can never actually turn off the autonomy. You're not in control and pressing buttons doesn't inhibit accidents and crashes.
We wouldn't write off Skydio so soon. While they are not making drones for Mapping, they may completely change the way we think about 3d modeling.
When we asked the tester if he would be using the Skydio in his 3d jobs, his answer was no. He would stick with Phantom/DSLR merging workflow. Frankly, this was a surprise because the skydio finished this small (SMALL) job rather quickly. While we believe the Skydio may be great for mapping smaller objects, don't hold your breathe for larger objects.
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