Tyler Suiters:

Hey everybody, the Consumer Technology Association, I'm Tyler Suiters. We are the owners and producers of CES, the most influential tech event in the world. And, we are here to help you get CES ready. The show is coming up soon, January 11th through the 14th 2021. And for the first time, CES will be an all digital show. It will help exhibitors connect with existing and new audiences from all around the world. You'll get a new immersive experience, and a front row seat to discover and see the latest technology. And, this will be a highly personalized experience. We're bringing you a global event right in the comfort, and maybe most importantly, safety of your own home or your office. The major categories will again be on hand, digital health, smart cities, resilience, applications of AI, vehicle technology, 5g and drones.

Tyler Suiters:

And, that last category is the topic of today's podcast. During the pandemic, we have seen consumer enthusiasm climbing for drones and other autonomous delivery systems, as more and more of us are trying them for the first time ourselves, and learning the benefits that they can bring. So today, a conversation about drones with the CEO of Skydio. This is an American drone company that has skyrocketed up the U.S. drone market. Today, we're finding out what makes Skydio's drones different. We're getting a glimpse into the growth patterns for the market overall, and the company itself, and learning the future of this game-changing technology. So today, a deep dive on drones in this edition of CES Tech Talk. Joining us now is Adam Bry. He is the CEO of Skydio. Adam, thanks for being here. It's great to have you with us today.

Adam Bry:

Hey Tyler, it's great to be here.

Tyler Suiters:

All right Adam, before I hand over the mic to you and really get deep into this, I want to start with a quote of yours recently that I think is especially poignant, and speaks to your vision for this entire sector. You said, quoting now, "We looked at all the things people wanted to do with drones and realized the products are primitive compared to what is possible." All right. That leaves a wide open door for conversation. So, what do you see at Skydio that is possible that we aren't doing in the drone sector right now?

Adam Bry:

Yeah, so I think the status quo with most drones out there today is, you're essentially responsible for being the pilot. So, if you know what you're doing, if you're an expert drone pilot, you're holding the controller, you're giving kind of low level commands, you can do incredible things. And, we're seeing that now across a lot of different industries and applications. We see people capturing amazing video. We see people doing these kind of useful inspection, monitoring, situational awareness tasks. But, the scope of what's happening is so limited compared to what it could be; and ultimately, what I think it should be, because of that requirement to have a skilled expert on the ground, paying attention to the thing at all times while it's flying.

Adam Bry:

And, our vision at Skydio is to take it to the next level. It's a very simple concept. But, if you give the drone the ability to fly itself with onboard autonomy, AI machine learning, and start to give it the skills of an expert pilot built-in, it just opens up this entirely new world of use cases and accessibility, and that's what motivated us to start the company. That's what we've been focused on for the last six, seven years. And, the most exciting thing for me is we're starting to see those possibilities now come to life with our customers.

Adam Bry:

So, one example of this, we launched Skydio 2, at the end of last year. And over the last year, we've just seen this incredible array of content come back from our consumer customers, who are out there using Skydio 2 to film things that just, you wouldn't be able to capture any other way. People would go mountain biking in a beautiful area and the drones following them, it's capturing amazing cinematic footage. And, it's kind of like you have a Hollywood film crew there available in your backpack. And, that's just one example. We have customers and use cases in a lot of different industries and segments. But, it's still something that we feel like we're much closer to the beginning of, and there's a lot more exciting stuff to come.

Tyler Suiters:

Well, Let's talk a little bit, Adam, about your customers. The drone tech sector seems to be one that straddles both consumer and commercial use pretty nimbly, right. There's not always a big division between the two. And at Skydio, you have a shared focus across consumer and enterprise use cases. So, how did you get to that point in terms of corporate development and a strategy; and finally, product execution and delivery?

Adam Bry:

Yeah. So, I think in that way, drones are similar to other really powerful technology categories that you see. I mean, if you think about phones, and laptops and computers, the most successful companies they're often are being used by consumers, and enterprises, and even government customers. Because, the technology flywheel that you can get going with this kind of shared foundation and that's then useful for a lot of different folks is really, really powerful. So, we always believe that the kind of small, light, super easy to use drone was going to be a really powerful platform for consumers, but also for businesses. And, that's really what we've been focused on since we started.

Adam Bry:

And, it's always been a question of timing, and when for us, we would expand beyond the consumer market and start to take autonomous drones into the enterprise. And, for a lot of reasons over the last couple years, that's what been doing. A lot of it has been based on pull from the market. Like we saw a lot of enterprise customers buying and using our consumer product. We started to get insight into their use cases. And then, that enabled us to start building more kind of specialized software applications for them on top of our hardware.

Tyler Suiters:

This has been a year like no other for, I would argue every company, period, but certainly for technology companies. But in the drone sector, Adam, we've seen a growth of enthusiasm for consumers around drones. And, I want to point to some CTA research from the Consumer Technology Association a little, earlier this year, more than a quarter of consumers say that, "They see autonomous delivery technology," so that includes drones, "More favorably now than before the pandemic." And, more than half of consumers are saying that, "These systems are somewhat, or very favorable." So, enthusiasm is certainly growing for this type of technology as the use cases become more apparent to everyday consumers. Take us back through your last 12 months, and not necessarily how it started, but how you at Skydio have evolved. And, although we're not emerged from the pandemic yet, where it leaves you going into the year, and years ahead.

Adam Bry:

Yeah. So just about a year ago, we launched Skydio 2, which was a hugely exciting thing for us as a company, seeing the response from our customers and consumers. And then, we're ramping into manufacturing that, and that's when the pandemic hit. So, it's been in many ways, an exciting and fun time for us as a company, but also a challenging. I think like everybody else out there, COVID brings a whole new set of stuff to figure out, and try to deal with. But, I think the thing that has honestly probably been surprising is that we've seen the demand for the products, if anything, go up in the face of the pandemic, which was not at all what we were expecting at the outset. Consumers seem just as interested in the kinds of capabilities that you can get from Skydio 2. And similarly, in the enterprise, I think the need for kind of remote, telepresence, situational awareness, the kinds of things that you can deliver with autonomous drones are probably more clear now than they've ever been before.

Adam Bry:

And, taking a little bit of a step back, I think that trend extends broadly beyond drones. I think it's kind of, we don't talk about enough as a civilization, how amazing it is that we can keep functioning at all with most folks working from home. And, I think tools that we now take for granted like email, chat, video calls, podcasts over the interne, it's really incredible. The platform that we built for ourselves in the technology world over the last few decades, that's enabled us to largely keep functioning as a civilization in some pretty strange circumstances.

Tyler Suiters:

That's a great point about consumer acceptance too. And not saying, "Yeah, I like them more than I did X amount of months ago," Adam. But, the fact that we are putting our money where our motivation is, if that's the right way to put it, going back to some CTA research, this is from the annual ownership and market potential research that CTA puts out every year, more than 20 million us households now own recreational drones. And, that's roughly 17% of U.S. households. So, awfully a high number considering how recent or how new, relatively new, the consumer drone market is. And then, 11% more tell us that, "They were going to purchase one in 2020." What are the practical drivers that you see? I mean, when you're doing your company's research, you're talking to your consumer side customers, what's motivating them? What's driving them to buy more drones or to, for the first time put one under the holiday tree, or get moving and into this sector?

Adam Bry:

So, I think there's a lot of different things. I think one... And, this is something that we really embrace as a company, I mean, drones are just cool. Like, it's this amazing capability to have this device that can fly around unconstrained in 3D. I think there's just something magical about flight. And, for the first time, really, in our history as a species like, it's now very accessible to people. You can actually go and buy your own personal flying device. And, I think that's just cool in a lot of ways. But, the biggest thing, and this is something that we're really driving at Skydio, is making the technology more accessible and more useful. And, I think what you've seen for kind of the biggest segment of the consumer market that exists today, or has existed up [inaudible 00:10:47] today, is that it's the hobbyist and the enthusiasts.

Adam Bry:

It's the people who are really willing to put in the time to become expert pilots themselves. And, there's definitely an enthusiast community there that does a lot of interesting, cool stuff. But, I think there's a much bigger opportunity for something that is capable of flying itself, and creating incredible content without you having to necessarily be the pilot. And, that's what we see with our customers. We see people capturing footage that you literally couldn't get any other way, and they can get it with just a few pushes of a button. So, the ultimate possibility here is it's replicating all the things that a Hollywood film crew would do. Its imagine you had a professional studio out there with you on your family hike or ski adventure, all of that stuff can be done with an autonomous drone, with the right software capability on board.

Tyler Suiters:

Great point on the consumer side. What if we shift now, Adam, to the commercial side. Skydio had some pretty major announcements toward the end of 2020. I want to start with the waiver for... And, all your drone insiders will know that all you have to do is say, "BLOS," and you indicate you're on the inside of this sector. But, for beyond line of sight bridge inspections, a use case we've been talking about for years now, and in this case, there's a state that's saying, "Yes, we are partnering with you, and we want to do this because there's a practical safety application here."

Adam Bry:

Yeah. It's a great example. So, I'd start because I think it's instructive for kind of the work that drones can do in the enterprise to think about how bridge inspections have traditionally been done. So, the status quo for this is that you use something called a snooper truck, which is a giant piece of heavy machinery that drives along the top of the bridge. And then, it's got this huge cantilevered arm that hangs underneath the bridge with a couple of people in it, in a basket. And, this thing kind of slowly drives along. And, the people in that basket are responsible for visually looking at potential damage to the bridge. And, that is an extremely expensive, slow, dangerous process, like these trucks tip over, people get hurt. And even if everything's working perfectly, you're not really getting a digital record of the bridge.

Adam Bry:

People are taking notes maybe, but you're not getting a full digital record. And, this is one of these examples where drones have the potential to be 10 X better. Like, you're getting a full digitization of the inspection that you're trying to do, and 10 to a 100 X safer and cheaper. So, that opportunity has been clear for a few years now, but nobody's really been able to make bridge inspection work at scale, because it's hard to fly a drone under a bridge where you don't have GPS. Meaning that conventional manual drones can't stabilize themselves, and there's a lot of obstacles to run into. So, it's just a perfect use case for autonomous drones. And very organically, we saw a bunch of departments of transportation around the U.S., and even internationally start buying Skydio 2's and using them for bridge inspection.

Adam Bry:

And, we're super excited to partner with NCDOT, North Carolina Department of transportation for this first of its kind waiver. And, I think one of the interesting things here is we're starting to see regulators recognize the power of autonomy. We're able to demonstrate with Skydio 2, because of its visual navigation, because of its collision avoidance, that it can fly itself safely even if an operator doesn't have visual line of sight to it. And, that's a really key concept, because that's the thing that ultimately is going to open up really scaled operations, and getting away from this one-to-one paradigm. So, it's a small step, and it's an important one for NCDOT and the work that they're doing, and it's something that we hope to do more of across the country. But, I think it also paints the way to the future, and this vision that we have of drones being useful tools that do work for us without necessarily needing people on the ground, working for them all the time.

Tyler Suiters:

Right. And, that safety aspect also into the launch of your X2D model, the Ready for Duty Series?

Adam Bry:

Yeah, that's right. So, we announced Skydio X2 earlier this year, which you kind of think of it like the enterprise, bigger brother to Skydio 2. So, it's using the same core technology foundation, but it's ruggedized, longer range, more capable payload, really optimized for enterprise applications, both inspection, as well as situational awareness, public safety and defense applications.

Tyler Suiters:

So, one of the messages from you all as a company, Adam, is that you don't want to be, or even today, you're not, quote, "Just another drone company." What does that mean? I mean, when you look at your vision for the future of your company, but also the drone market too, what does it mean to be different, to be not just another in a an industry that is still so nascent?

Adam Bry:

Yeah. Well look, I think we're really excited about what's happening in the industry in the role that we're playing. After years of hard work, we're now the leading U.S. drone company, which I think, in and of itself, is important. There's kind of been this narrative that U.S. companies couldn't compete, and the space was going to be dominated by Chinese companies. And, I think we're actively disproving that every day with Skydio 2, and what our customers are out there doing with it. But really, I think the whole thing is still very early days. If you use an analogy for another space, you think about like the PC industry. PCs kind of went through this early phase where there were hobbyists and hackers doing interesting things, everything was done at a command prompt. And then, we went through this software transition with the graphical user interface, with the original Macintosh and then with Windows, and that kind of transition to this software-defined experience was transformative. It opened up this whole new world of applications. It made the technology more accessible for more people.

Adam Bry:

And, we're still kind of playing in that world. The smartphone is in a lot of ways, the evolution of the PC. And, that's really what we think autonomy does for drones. It turns it into a software-defined experience, and it makes it way more accessible for way more people. And, that's what we're about. That's what we've been working on since the very beginning. And, we're seeing it come to life with our customers. And, I really think about this as just sort of a new category of device. We're used to having these computers that sit on our desks that we give input into, and then they show information to us on a screen, and I really think of these intelligent robots as a new category of device. It's a computer that does useful work for us in the physical world. And, I think that's just an incredibly exciting thing to get to be a part of. And, our goal is to be a pioneer in that category.

Tyler Suiters:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, how does that translate into Skydio plans at the all-digital CES 2021? What are your plans? What's the story you want to tell?

Adam Bry:

Yeah, well, so I mean, we're doing a few things that we're pretty excited about. I think one, we'll be giving away a Skydio 2, which is note worthy because they're still in short supply. We've been working as hard as we can this year to build enough drones, to keep up with demand. And, we're getting better at it. We're catching up, but there's still a bit of a wait time there. So, if you register for the Skydio 2 giveaway, you have the chance to get one faster than you can actually order one today. And then, we'll also be highlighting some of the work that we're doing with our customers. We've got some case studies to explore, the kind of solutions that our enterprise customers are out there developing based on Skydio drones. We'll be doing a 30 minute discussion on the future of drone cinematography.

Adam Bry:

So, we've got an internal team that's phenomenal, that are experts in getting the best out of autonomous drones, and the kind of content that you can create. So, there'll be sharing tips and tricks on what we're seeing today, and where we see it going. And then, we're also going to be doing a deep dive on Skydio's technology. So, for my background, this is the stuff that I'm personally most passionate about, but really getting into the guts of how the autonomy system works. And, I think for people that are interested in AI, autonomy machine learning, that should be a pretty interesting one.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. So, let's go a little deeper on that, because you glossed over it Adam, and humbly so, let's be clear, you're an MIT guy, right. That can be synonymous right now with robotics and autonomous systems. So, let's go a little deeper into that. And, what has you so excited about the autonomous side of drone technology, and the AI aspects of it as we're looking at the next five, 10 years?

Adam Bry:

Yeah. So my background, I grew up flying radio-controlled airplanes, which were in a lot of ways, the predecessors to drones. And, I took it way too seriously as a kid, I traveled all over the country, [inaudible 00:19:53] aerobatic competitions, which most people don't even know this exists. But, you can actually go out, fly a competition, you basically fly the maneuvers, you get judged on how precisely you do it. So, I spent a lot of time as a kid trying to become a good pilot myself. And, the switch that flipped when I was in grad school at MIT was realizing there was an opportunity to put computers in sensors, essentially on RC airplanes, and start to make them capable of doing things on their own. And, that was just completely addicting. And in a lot of ways, that's what we're doing at Skydio.

Adam Bry:

And I think at a high level, this is a trend that we see playing out in a few different areas. There's been these competitions between the chess masters, and the AI chess systems, and then it moved to go, and now we see it in other fields. And to some degree, that's the challenge that we're pursuing at Skydio, is building an artificial intelligence system that really has the skills and the capabilities of an expert pilot. And, it's very challenging, but it's super fun. And, it's really fun for us to see these systems come to life and get more, and more capable over time.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. As we're talking about business strategies, and what sets you apart as a company, it's great to hear from the CEO level down, the aspect of fun, right. That is such a key ingredient in the drone sector, many other tech sectors as well.

Adam Bry:

Oh yeah. I think, I mean, this is kind of core to our identity as a company. I mean, the stuff we're working on is so cool that if we're not having fun doing it, we're doing it wrong.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. And, having fun and doing it successfully, I think, hopefully, go hand in hand as well. Adam Bry is the CEO of Skydio. As you can tell, he is a passionate advocate, and a fan as well of drone technologies and autonomous systems. Adam, hey, great to have you with us. Thanks so much and hope you have just a terrific CES 2021.

Adam Bry:

All right. Thank you very much, Tyler. This was great.

Tyler Suiters:

All right. That is a wrap for this edition of CES Tech Talk. Coming up next time, a conversation with a longtime exhibitor at CES, and a global brand, I bet you know pretty well. It is a conversation about how products are impacting people's lives, but also society. On our next edition of CES Tech Talk, a deep dive with Cannon. Well, that CES transcends the traditional tech industry, and companies use CES as a platform to show how they're embracing technology and evolving their business. Companies large and small have a platform at CES, and we want you to be CES ready.

Tyler Suiters:

So, do yourself a favor, subscribe to the CES Tech Talk podcast, and that way you won't miss any episodes as we're leading up to the big show. speaking of CES 2021, is January 11th through the 14th. At ces.tech, is where you'll find the latest, exciting news and announcements about the show. That is at ces.tech. As always, none of this is even remotely possible without the true stars of our show. Our Executive Producer, Jennifer Drogus, our Assistant Producer, Kristen Nemeroff, and our Senior Studio Engineer, John Lindsey. You all are the best in the business. I'm Tyler Suiters, let's talk tech again soon.

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