After significant research within the FAA's Part 107 regulations, serious questions have arisen regarding whether Skydio drones are legal to fly and meet Part 107 requirements. When autonomy is always controlling the drone, can a pilot really stop an emergency, a flyaway or keep the drone from hitting other people?
Serious questions have arisen about whether or not Skydio drones actually meet Part 107 regulations. After significant research, phone calls and legal discussions.... We believe the drone industry should be asking these serious questions regarding if Skydio drones are legal to fly. Whether it is Skydio, or any drone manufacturer who prioritizes autonomy over pilot control.. the questions remain.
The industry has questioned whether or not the FAA is even capable of understanding practical drone operations. We might have finally reached the denouement (climax) of regulatory idiocy. Allow me to explain...
When Part 107 arrived, many drone pilots were excited to jump on board. Part 107 gave drone pilots the unabridged ability to fly drones commercially. Part 107 also setup standards for pilots and for the drones they would be flying. (Download Part 107, the FAA Summary and AC107-2 in the Pilot Field Kit.)
Since the inception of standardization for unmanned aircraft systems, insurance companies have used the FAA guidelines as a base-line for insuring pilots. If drone pilots cannot meet the guidelines of Part 107, typically insurance companies cannot cover claims.
Which is why it is so important to understand if your drone actually meets the requirements set forth by the FAA. Could you imagine if a drone pilot or FIREFIGHTER was operating a drone and had a crash, only to learn that the insurance company is not covering the damages?
This is one reason we are asking if Skydio drones are actually legal to fly under Part 107. Again, whether it is Skydio or any manufacturer producing autonomous drones...the questions remain. Yet Skydio has made it clear, they intend to replace the drone pilot.
Legal to fly?
The question is actually rather simple, and tends to make more sense when explained practically. Having flown Skydio drones, we have become familiar with the control systems and wand remote. While it is extremely fun to fly the drone,
how will you stop a flyaway?
By design, Skydio drones prioritize the autonomous engine over pilot input. Period.
No arguing this point. There are no flight modes or "kill switches," to prioritize PILOT INPUT over the computer. Think of it like this. Imagine I'm flying my Skydio drone and chasing myself on a mountain bike. Let's imagine a family with kids is now approaching me on the same trail i'm biking. Let's say there are a few kids quickly approaching.
What if while i'm biking, I need to tell the drone to avoid hitting or flying over the kids?
Using the wand or remote I can move the sticks to adjust the path. While we can now "nudge" the aircraft, we cannot instantly take over control and adjust the flight path. Autonomy is always in control, and making predictive decisions on where to fly. Even Drone XL mentioned how this predictive autonomy caused one Skydio nightmare with a family in New York.
So if we wanted to land the Skydio while riding our bike, we have to let Skydio find a place to land and allow time to complete the command. How much time does this take versus time to make a split decision?
What if we wanted to stop a flyaway?
Yes FAA, you can stop a flyaway. There are really two types of flyaways and the ultimate spectacular crash!
When flying Skydio drones, there is no flight mode switch, and/or there isn't a kill switch. A pilot cannot direct the drone (via a button or switch) to prioritize pilot input over autonomous decisions.
So what happens if the Skydio is flying in areas of high reflectivity? (tall building covered in class, water, or metal roofs). How will the pilot stop a flyaway, stop the drone from hitting a child or tell the drone "hey, as the pilot i'm in control not the software."
As someone who has flown skydio, we are aware of what happens when the drone can't figure out what to do. The drone seriously just stops in place and pilot input controls are slowed down. Typically the pilot will go look at the spatial environment and direct the drone which way to go to continue the flight. This takes time and pilot can't always take over control.
There is no way to instantly (or quickly) direct the Skydio drone to move, land or avoid hitting your dog.
Autonomy is always in control.
Due to the fact that the pilot is not ultimately in control of the aircraft, we wondered if this practical limitation meant that Skydio drones may not be legal under Part 107...
The FAA interpreted Part 107 with their summary explanation document (Preamble?), but I'm not sure this particular issue has been brought to their attention. How would they know... they don't actually fly drones...
Since we haven't seen anyone else ask the questions in the industry, or at the government level, we wanted to ask the questions. Our heros and other pilots in the industry, DESERVES to know.
We're not stating legal opinion, we are simply asking the questions. We just want to know if Skydio drones are really legal under part 107 or not.
Based on the practical explanation above, could Skydio drones actually meet the guidelines of:
14 CFR 107.19 Sections C, E
What does 14 CFR 107.19 state?
Notice, section C states,"The RPIC must ensure that the small unmanned aircraft will pose no undue hazard to other people, other aircraft or other property in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft for any reason."
Notice, section E states," The RPIC must have the ability to direct the small unmanned aircraft to ensure compliance with the applicable provisions in this chapter.
Practically speaking, we question if Skydio drones actually meet these two regulatory stipulations...
14 CFR 107.23 Section A
Notice that 14 CFR 107.21 (A) states "no person may operate a suas in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another."
Remember, this particular provision is the FAA's "catch all," when enforcing against drone pilots. This particular provision was left rather vague. Now after watching numerous investigations against pilots, typically this provision is brought up with the secondary question of "what was the pilots intention at the start of the flight." Intent typically showcases a broader story by the pilot.
What happens when the pilot is unaware the drone is incapable of avoiding emergencies? What if the FAA didn't consider this? How would they proceed? Is the Skydio drone really legal to fly under Part 107?
Why ask the questions.
We want to make it clear Why we are asking these questions. Make sure to see the detailed explain here.
When the men and women of public safety are flying drones to save lives, do we really want to add liability to these service members?
Do we want them to find out the hard way?
Do we want someone in law enforcement or fire fighting sued for flying drones that were incapable of being legal? (Yet regulators were incapable of understanding or providing direction to public safety? Now you know why i'm not a fan of impetus regulators and "responder" associations. They don't know what they don't know. Blind leading the blind. Yet many of them refuse to learn the proper operational protocols as well...)
Would the insurance companies cover the flight or crash if the aircraft didn't meet the guidelines of part 107? Most insurance provisions state "Drone pilot must follow FAA guidelines at all times during the flight."
At Drone U, we believe we hold a higher standard in flight operations and education. We want to ask these questions in hopes we can prevent our heros from being on the legal chopping block. AGAIN.......
Also this particular question may prove why the drone industry is ultimately doomed. We have hit a pivot point in the industry as the NDAA will arrive soon, packed with surprising gifts. After the NDAA, we will see Remote ID. We might finally have proven that a lack of practical knowledge in DRONE flight operations by regulators, actually makes the airspace quite dangerous.
Isn't the FAA's mandate to keep the National Airspace System Safe?
We saw how that worked out with the 737 Max.. next up Skydio.
Autel Robotics announced its long-awaited EVO II series drone at CES 2020 in January, promising vast improvements over the original EVO model launched back in 2018. Its most notable feature is a modular camera system, offering three models that cover a range of features that meet different users' needs, from consumers to professionals.
The camera on the standard EVO II uses a 1/2" 48MP Quad Bayer sensor and is the first consumer drone to offer 8K video. The EVO II Pro uses a larger 1"-type 20MP sensor that gives 6K recording, and the EVO II Dual features both an optical and a thermal camera in a single unit and also maxes out at 6K recording. The modular system allows users to switch cameras if needed on a single drone.
Key specifications (not including camera)
EVO II Pro
EVO II Dual
1/2" CMOS (optical)
FLIR BOSON sensor (thermal)*
48MP Quad Bayer
640 x 512 (thermal)
Max photo resolution
Max video resolution
8K/25p, 6K/30p, 4K/60p
6K/30p, 4K/60p, HD/120p
6K/30p, 4K/60p, HD/120p
26mm equiv. (F1.8 fixed)
29mm equiv. (F2.8-11)
29mm equiv. (F2.8-11)
8x (up to 4x lossless)
8x (up to 3x lossless)
8x (up to 3x lossless)
1150g (2.5 lbs.)
1191g (2.6 lbs.)
1150g (2.5 lbs.)
*FLIR sensor size not specified
When buying an EVO II, you can choose the model with the camera that best fits your needs. If you want to switch cameras at some point, you can do it without buying a whole new drone.
The EVO II was released in June following several delays, beginning with a software bug and supply chain shortages. Has the company ironed out the glitches that delayed its launch for a few months? And, how does it compare to similar models from DJI? We'll explore both questions in this review.
We tested the standard EVO II, thanks to our friends at Drone-Works. Chicago-based professional Antoine Tissier lent us his EVO II Pro model for some additional tests. We did not test the EVO II Dual.
Aircraft and controller
The EVO II bears a strong resemblance to DJI's folding Mavic series of drones, though its body is substantially larger, and it doesn't quite fit in your palm. One thing that's a bit perplexing is that the bottom propellers don't fold neatly under. They jut out slightly, making it more difficult to carry the drone in-hand.
The EVO II features a total of 12 computer vision sensors located on the front, rear, top, bottom, left, and right side of the aircraft for omnidirectional obstacle avoidance. There are also two ultrasonic sensors located on the bottom of the drone for precision hovering.
The Owner's Manual points out that there are blind spots on all 4 corners of the drone. When I flew the EVO II in diagonal directions, I noticed that obstacle avoidance didn't activate at times. You should always fly your drone within visual line of sight, regardless.
The bottom of the Autel EVO II aircraft is equipped with 2 Ultrasonic sensors (closest to the camera) followed by the Downward Vision System (in the middle and back) and the Downward Vision Lighting LED (middle-right).
Autel claims a 40-minute battery life while flying and 35 minutes when hovering without wind. I found this figure extremely accurate. For comparison, the Mavic Air 2 clocks in at 34 minutes while the Mavic 2 Pro tops out around 30 minutes. That extra 6–10 minutes of battery life will matter if you're performing an inspection or mapping a site.
The battery is huge at 7,100 mAH and slides in and out easily. According to Autel, a 'patented Battlock system' prevents the battery from ejecting during fast flights or crashes.
8GB of onboard storage is available if you're without a memory card or as back up if you run out of space while capturing imagery. Media stored on the drone can be accessed through a USB-C port located on the right-hand side. On the opposite side is a microSD slot that can house a card up to 256GB.
Controls and flight modes
The EVO II is powered by the same type of remote as the original EVO, which is disappointing for several reasons. Because you're using it to maneuver your drone, the remote should be ergonomically friendly. Unfortunately, that's not the case with this particular design. Two rather awkward handles fold out from the bottom that are made of slick plastic. While I didn't fly in hot weather, I couldn't help but wonder how challenging it might be to hold on to the remote should my palms sweat.
Your mobile device clamps in on top of the remote, and you don't need to remove your smartphone case. Much like the original EVO or competing Mavic models, tablets will not fit. The main part of the controller features a built-in 3.3–inch OLED display.
The controller's 3.3–inch built-in OLED display gives you critical flight information.
It's possible to operate the EVO II using the remote controller on its own. This works for taking photographs or video clips on the fly. However, Autel recommends using its Explorer app on a smartphone to access all of the drone's features.
Unlike recent Mavic controllers, there isn't a simple routing solution for connecting your mobile device if you're using Apple's iPhone. Instead, a USB Type-A port can be found at the bottom of the remote. This means you need to supply your own connecting cable, much like the DJI Phantom 4 models of 2016. For all other smartphones, a USB Type-C connector is included.
Another issue stems from two buttons labeled 'A' and 'B' on the remote's backside. They're way too easy to accidentally press while flying and activating, for example, the Voice Assistant or an Intelligent Flight mode. It's possible to program the buttons to perform different functions, but you're likely to activate a feature unintentionally at least once per flight, and it's distracting at best.
I can't help but wonder why Autel didn't take a cue from DJI, who made it incredibly simple to switch flight modes by featuring them front–and–center on their Mavic Air 2 remote. For example, to activate 'Ludicrous' mode, the equivalent of Autel's Sport mode, which allows the drone to travel at its top speed of almost 45 mph, you need to go into the app's settings menu to switch over.
The sticks on the remote are easy to maneuver with just the right amount of resistance. When powering on, you'll have to press down on the drone battery button for three or more seconds before it powers up or down, a bit different for DJI users accustomed to a quick tap followed by a two-second hold.'
Odds and ends
Drone-Works sent me the EVO II 'Rugged Bundle,' which includes a hard case designed specifically for this product by GPC. It also has two extra sets of propellers and an additional flight battery. The case is rather large for what is fundamentally a compact drone and will be a hassle, especially with airport security, once air travel becomes commonplace again.
On the right is a Mavic 2 case I purchased for myself. Though the drone isn't too much smaller than the EVO II, the case that comes with the 'Rugged Bundle' is overwhelmingly large for a foldable drone.
The Autel Robotics Evo II
(Evo 2) is an exciting update to the initial Evo. Sharing much of the same ideology for form-factor and flight characteristics, the newer machine is an update in almost every way. Primarily, pilots should be excited for 40 minute flight times, extended connectivity range, and an 8K camera. Sure, you can upgrade to a Pro model that has a larger sensor and only a 6K camera, but base model Evo II buyers are getting their hands on one of the first consumer products to shoot 8K video, not just drones, one of the first, period.
This orange folding drone is a machine that satisfies consumers, but also tackles commercial and professional needs. Notably, the top model of the new Evo II line comes with a dual-camera configuration, sporting an 8K sensor and a decent IR camera. The base model and the commercial model each get that 1/2-inch 8K sensor, while the pro model gets a full 1-inch 6K sensor. They can all send the camera feed back to the Autel Robotics Live Deck, for your studio and independent recording needs as well.
The Autel Robotics Evo II will be available in early 2020 starting at $1495. Exact prices and availability yet to be announced.
Autel Robotics Evo II
USER SCOREYOUR SCORE
The original DJI Inspire may have set a tone for what a professional drone should look like, but the newer DJI Inspire 2 set the tone for what it should be able to accomplish. At launch, the Inspire 2 was equipped with the Zenmuse X5, a 5.2K camera with interchangeable lenses, ready to take on tasks in Hollywood. Since then, DJI has added the Zenmuse X7 camera, a 6K shooter even more capable of professional filming tasks.
DJI Inspire 2
USER SCOREYOUR SCORE
605 mm frame
Max service ceiling
19685 feet (Variable with different propellers.)
Max ascend/descend speeds
19.69 ft/s (6 m/s)
13.12 ft/s (4 m/s)
Dual 4,280 mAh Lithium Polymer - Removable.
Max 27 minutes
Ensure safe landing: 22 minutes
Max 4.3 miles from controller
Zenmuse X7 - 24MP 4K 16/24/35/50mm F2.8 lenses
Zenmuse X5S - 21MP M4/3 4K variable lenses
Zenmuse X4S - 1-inch CMOS 20MP 4K
Varies between cameras:
Cinematic 4K - 24/25/30/48/50/60fps (4096x2160) @100Mbps
4K - 24/25/30/48/50/60fps (3840x2160) @100Mbps
2.7K - 24/25/30/48/50/60fps (2704x1520) @ 60/65/80Mbps
FHD - 24/25/30/48/50/60/120fps (1920x1080) @ 50/60/65/80/100Mbps
HD - 24/25/30/48/50/60/120fps (1280x720) @ 25/30/35/45/60/80Mbps
Up to 64GB micro SD
Dual 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz range
Max 4.3 mile operating range
6000 mAh rechargeable battery
Up to 7-inch tablet
microUSB, Lighting and USB Type-C
ATTI, GPS, Visual
Follow-me: behind, in front, circle, side
Tap to fly map navigation
Return to home
Horizontal: 1.5m GPS, 0.3m Vision
Vertical: 0.5m GPS, 0.1m Vision
Optional Cendence remote controller