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How to Fly Safely with Skydio 2

Josh Spires | 03 November, 2021 | The Sphere Drones Blog

Featured image for How to Fly Safely with Skydio 2

Skydio makes drones a little differently than our competition. Skydio drones are equipped with six 4k navigation cameras, a Nvidia TX2 GPU for processing, and the most advanced AI software of any drone on the market. Although Skydio autonomous drones are built to be intuitive and easy to fly, Skydio they are built different, they also fly and operate differently than you may expect.

While Skydio 2 has unparalleled obstacle avoidance compared to manual drones, just because Skydio 2 dodges one powerline, doesn't mean it will dodge every powerline. There are in fact a variety of factors that can lead to Skydio 2 not sensing an obstacle, such as lighting, flight-speed, and dirty cameras (make sure to clean all camera lenses before flying!).

Skydio Safety and Operating Guidelines

Skydio pilots should always be wary of their surroundings when flying their autonomous Skydio 2 drone and should have an in-depth understanding of the Skydio Safety and Operating Guidelines. Ignoring these guidelines will void your warranty in the event of a crash. Abiding by them will go a long way towards preventing an incident as well as help you get a warranty replacement if something does go awry.

Skydio 2 safety and operating guidelines

Thin Obstacles

Although the Skydio vision system is impressive and has been thoroughly tested in a wide range of environments, obstacles thinner than 1/2 inch are typically not identified by the Skydio navigation system. Therefore, the Skydio Safety and Operating Guidelines recommend flying cautiously near obstacles such as thin branches without leaves, powerlines, wires, chain-link fences, nettings, and ropes.

Moving Obstacles

Moving obstacles such as vehicles, people, and animals are difficult for Skydio 2 to identify, especially at high speeds. Therefore, flying over public roads is strictly prohibited in our Safety and Operating Guidelines. Skydio 2 will only avoid a moving obstacle if it is tracking it as a subject. If Skydio 2 is hovering, and a car, your friend, or someone’s dog approaches it, don’t expect Skydio 2 to move away from them. If flying near anyone or anything that you think may approach the drone, leave the Height Floor on as an added safety precaution, especially when learning to pilot Skydio 2.

Reflective Obstacles

Reflective obstacles such as windows, mirrors, and still water can be visually challenging for Skydio 2 to identify. When flying Skydio 2 manually, maintain a safe distance from reflective obstacles as Skydio 2 may not reliably detect and avoid them. If Skydio 2 is flying autonomously, ensure that you maintain as safe distance from reflective obstacles by using the Height-floor, Fixed Track mode and/or Drag & Drop with the Skydio Beacon.

Low Light

To fly drones after sunset or before sunrise, Part 107 pilots must acquire a waiver from the FAA and mount anti-collision strobes. Mounting strobes of any kind to Skydio 2 can interfere with the navigation system and therefore violates the Skydio Safety and Operating Guidelines. Skydio 2 navigation cameras, much like your eyes, rely on light to see obstacles—because of this Skydio 2 cannot be operated in the dark or at night.

When flying at sunset or in low light, Skydio 2 will alert you when it has become too dark to continue flying. It is your responsibility as the operator to return home when you receive this warning. If you continue to fly in low light/night conditions, Skydio 2 may detect phantom obstacles causing erratic flight behaviour, increase the potential of a collision, or cause difficulty landing. Land immediately if you experience this behaviour.

Skydio 2 will not allow you to launch in low light conditions, but if you feel that there should be enough light to fly, ensure Skydio 2 is in a well-lit area. Launching in the shadow of trees or buildings may result in the “too dark to fly” warning, however, keep in mind that flying in low light, while ignoring warnings, may void your warranty in the event of a collision.

Over Water Flight

Flying over water should be avoided unless you are an experienced pilot and have a solid understanding of the way that Skydio 2 operates and interacts with obstacles. For example, if water is reflective enough, Skydio 2 may perceive it as open sky and fly into it to avoid a more solid-looking obstacle, so you must take every precaution when operating Skydio 2 in the environments. For an excellent example of how to fly safely over water, check out this video filmed by Skydio customer, Adrien Seguy, with some helpful notes added by yours truly.

The safest way to launch and land Skydio 2 for flights over water (especially autonomous and Beacon flights) is from the shore. WARNING: Launching and landing from a boat should be reserved only for experienced Skydio pilots who are comfortable with hand launches and landings. If conditions are windy and/or the boat is moving, you should avoid landing on the boat entirely in favour of the shore.

Wind should always be considered when flying Skydio 2, especially over water. Skydio 2 can withstand winds/gusts up to 25 mph and will warn you if winds are too strong to fly. If you are flying autonomously over a body of water greater than 40 feet across, make sure you have sufficient GPS signal at all times, enable the Height Floor, and head back to shore with plenty of battery just in case you need extra time to perform a safe landing.

Skydio 2 Safety Features

There are a few key safety features that every Skydio pilot should know to ensure a safe and fun flight experience. Learning how these safety features work and how and when to use them will come in handy if you ever find yourself in a stressful situation. Remember that the pilot is always responsible for the decisions they make while flying. Making good choices about where and when to fly is the number one thing that you can control as a pilot, so do your best to think about the potential outcomes when preparing to fly.

Emergency Stop

If you are tracking a subject or flying towards an obstacle and the situation becomes dangerous you can tap the red emergency stop button (on Beacon it is the red square and on the fly screen, the button is located in the top right corner), this action will put Skydio 2 into a hover, giving you time to assess the situation and respond safety

The emergency stop button also brings up the Cinematic Mode selector on the Beacon, enabling you to switch to the Beacon Steering mode if you need to manually pilot Skydio 2 to safety. Keep in mind that the Beacon’s Drag & Drop feature is also a great way to keep Skydio 2 out of harm’s way but works best when a subject is still being tracked.

Height Floor

By default, Skydio 2 has the Height Floor enabled, which means it cannot fly below 8 feet. We suggest leaving the Height Floor on for your first few flights until you are comfortable flying an autonomous drone. If you would like to disable the Height Floor, make sure you are flying in a location that is free of people, animals, and vehicles.

Disabling the Height Floor can improve the tracking performance, as well as the quality of your footage. When disabled, Skydio 2 can fly lower for better framing and follow the subject through tighter (lower) gaps in obstacles. Again, it is the responsibility of the pilot to make smart decisions about where and when to fly, as well as how to utilize these features.

App Return to Home

There are several ways to bring your Skydio 2 home and understanding the different options will help have a better overall experience. Return To Home (RTH) offers you the option to fly to the launch point, to the phone, or to a set Home Point.

Initiate an RTH by pressing the house icon on the fly screen, or on the Controller. Skydio 2 must have a GPS signal at some point during the flight to create a Home Point. The better and more sustained the GPS signal, the more accurate Skydio 2’s flight will be when returning to that Home Point. If Skydio 2 loses GPS or the GPS signal becomes weak, the drone will do its best to estimate and return to the Home Point position.

Beacon Return to Home

The Beacon does not currently have RTH functionality, but you can achieve the same effect by reducing the tracking distance to bring Skydio 2 closer to you. As usual, the effectiveness is dependent on the strength of your GPS signal, as well as the number of obstacles present.

If there are obstacles blocking Skydio 2’s direct path to you and it cannot see you, using Drag & Drop to encourage the drone around the obstacle is a viable solution (if not, use Beacon Steering). Since GPS signals are inherently inaccurate, you will most likely need to use Beacon Steering to pilot Skydio 2 the last 30-40 feet home, no matter how strong the signal is.

Lost Connection Behaviour

If Skydio 2 loses connection with the control device, it will initiate an automatic Return to Home. Return behaviour will be the same as a pilot-initiated return, depending on your return settings (Enterprise App).

Lost connection behaviour can sometimes be confusing as there are several variables such as: control device, signal strength, tracking a subject or not, and whether or not a Home Point is set. If a Home Point is set, Skydio 2 will always return to that point. If no Home Point is set and no subject is being tracked, Skydio 2 will return to the launch point. If Skydio 2 was tracking a subject, it will return to where it last saw the subject. If you are worried about lost connection, you should make a habit of setting a Home Point in a safe/open area, so you can be assured your drone will return to the expected location. >

Local Regulations such as FAA

While Skydio has its own set of safety guidelines, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforces their own rules, which are more strictly enforced. Keep in mind, the FAA has a policy of educating recreational pilots before handing out large fines or jail time. However, they have been known to strictly enforce repeat offenses.

Line-of-Sight

Flying line-of-sight has major benefits when it comes to maintaining a strong signal, but it’s also important for flying safely. This FAA rule states that the POC (Pilot in Command) must be able to visually locate the drone at all times. This does not mean that your eyes need to be locked on the drone for the entire flight, as this would make it near-impossible for solo-operators if they couldn’t check their video feed. However, it does mean that you should always be able to look up and locate your drone.

Flying Over Crowds

Flying over crowds of people requires a Part 107 license, as well a waiver from the FAA. Always abide by this rule and make sure to get a waiver for flying over crowds. While most recreational pilots will receive warnings for their first offense, Part 107 pilots (who should know better) could receive a hefty fine for these types of violations.

Piloting While Operating Vehicle

According to the FAA, "flying drones while operating a vehicle or aircraft unless you are flying your drone over a sparsely populated area." Operating in urban environments, with roads, powerlines, moving vehicles, and pedestrians present challenges for Skydio 2 and may result in injuries or destruction of property. Not only is operating a drone while driving illegal from the federal government's perspective it is also very dangerous. In the event your Skydio 2 crashes while tracking you on a public road, the odds of getting it replaced via the Skydio warranty are very slim, and the odds of receiving a call from the FAA are high. Just don’t do it.

What Makes an Expert Skydio Pilot?

When flying autonomously, a skilled Skydio operator should know where the drone is positioned, what tracking mode is being used, and where potential hazards lie. Instead of flying blindly into danger, skilful Skydians use ‘Fixed Track’ and ‘Drag & Drop’ to not only place their drone out of harm’s way, but where it has the best chance to succeed to get the best shot. Veteran Skydio pilots understand that if their drone is using all 1.3 trillion operations per second calculating how to avoid the obstacles in “thin branch hell,” you are likely to come away with disappointing footage as compared to a more open location.

Expert Skydio pilots know, understand, and follow safety guidelines and regulations so they can worry less and fly more. They have read the manuals, articles, and Safety and Operating Guidelines Safety Guidelines as well as Skydio Flight School, so they are well informed regarding autonomous flight as well as Skydio 2’s unique feature-set, control devices, and safety features. Skydio expert pilots understand that Skydio Autonomy may seem like magic, but in reality, it’s breakthrough technology with specific limitations that should be respected.

Source: Skydio

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