The drone industry is unhealthy. At least that’s according to a memo issued by Silicon Valley-based dronemaker Skydio.
Skydio this month released its new Skydio 2 drone, an ultra-smart camera drone with six sensors that enable it to autonomously track and film subjects.
The drone company is one of just a few remaining American manufacturers designing and building drones. Many other California-based companies before, most notably 3D Robotics and GoPro, have tried, but they’ve failed, primarily citing too much competition from Chinese drone manufacturer DJI.
And that concerns Skydio.
“We have immense respect for DJI and the products they create, but the industry as a whole is not healthy,” according to a statement issued by Skydio.
Skydio in part blamed many non-DJI (and typically American) companies for promising features, but not actually delivering upon them. One of the biggest offenders, perhaps, was Lily, a company that launched to much fanfare in 2015 on Indiegogo, raising $34 million in pre-orders. Their promo video showed a drone that could take off upon being tossed in the air, and then navigating around objects — something no drones were able to do at the time. The drone even made it on the Wall Street Journal’s list of products “that will change your life,” and the drone’s cofounders were named in Fortune’s 30 Under 30.
For the record, Drone Girl never initially covered the company because Indiegogo and other crowdfunded products have no guarantee they will go to production as promised. And of course, Lily, in fact, never went to production as promised, instead drawing hundreds of angry customers.
“The current generation of manually flown drones haven’t delivered on the ideas that have gotten so many of us excited about drones over the last few years,” according to a prepared Skydio statement. “They claim to have autonomy capabilities but it’s still a ‘gee whiz’ side feature, not a trustworthy part of the core experience.”
Lily did eventually come to fruition, and certainly with few of the promised features (The Drone Girl team gave Lily one of the poorest reviews we have ever given to a drone, citing basic hardware and safety issues).
“We want to challenge the myth that an American company can’t build a superior drone.”
– a memo from Skydio that accompanied the launch of its Skydio 2 drone
Other drone companies have fared far better than Lily, but “better” is a relative term.
Once media-darling 3D Robotics burned through about $100 million of venture capital, laid off most of its staff and pivoted to enterprise software, leaving its consumer-focused Solo to die. GoPro also laid off hundreds of employees after a recall due to reports that Karma drones were falling from the sky. They’ve discontinued production and now focus on their action cameras. Airware shut down completely. The list goes on.
Skydio has outlined ways it thinks it can fare better. For starters, its drones actually do work (The Drone Girl team has tried them and can vouch!)
The company is partnering with other American drone leaders, such as enterprise drone mapping software company Drone Deploy. They’re also working with first responders to actually put some of the drone’s features to the test and fully integrate it into autonomous work flows. Skydio is also working on applications itself, as well as with SDK partners, to create new realms of autonomy.
“We want to challenge the myth that an American company can’t build a superior drone,” Skydio’s memo said.