Inside Skydio’s unique, new manufacturing strategy

The process of Skydio manufacturing has changed — and it could mean an improved airframe built at a more scalable rate (which means lower cost), for the California-based dronemaker.

Skydio today announced a partnership with Arris, a California-based design and manufacturing company. Together, the two companies have changed the way Skydio’s airframe is designed and manufactured through a process called Additive Molding, which is Arris’s own carbon fiber manufacturing technology. 

Prior to the Arris partnership, Skydio airframes were comprised of a 17-part assembly process. Now, the components have been consolidated — so much so that the airframe is a a single, multi-functional structure. Here’s how it works: Arris’s first-of-its-kind Additive Molding leverages 3D-aligned continuous fiber composite materials for complex shapes where material composition can change within regions of a single part.

With an optimized carbon and glass fiber layout based on functional requirements of individual regions of the airframe, Skydio says the new airframe has the “strength and stiffness of titanium at a fraction of the weight.”

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The Skydio X2 drone

The new airframe will be integrated into the Skydio X2 drone series. Skydio X2 is a recently-launched family of two (for now) types of drones equipped with thermal cameras, designed specifically for various types of enterprise use cases (that’s separate from the Skydio 2, which is a more consumer-focused drone)

Here are some things you can expect with the new Skydio X2 airframe:

  • Lighter-weight
  • Longer range
  • More robust aircraft structure
  • Lower cost (well, to the company, not necessarily directly to consumers)
  • A newly designed core structural element manufactured with Arris’s Additive Molding technology

“The unique properties of Arris’s Additive Molding carbon fiber allows us to optimize the strength, weight, and radio signal transparency of the Skydio X2 airframe to deliver a highly reliable solution that meets the needs of demanding enterprise, public safety and defense use cases,” said Skydio CEO Adam Bry in a prepared statement.

The change in Skydio manufacturing could indicate not just better-quality drones for consumers, but it might be what it takes to enable Skydio to more effectively compete with DJI.

DJI is far and away the largest drone maker in the world, but its dominance is only this year lagging. The Chinese drone maker has kept costs down and had such a robust network across all aspects of the drone industry, from manufacturing to R&D to marketing and sales. That’s prevented once-promising competitors like 3D Robotics and GoPro from having a chance at competing. But more-efficient airframe technology could change that.

“Such a moment has come where manufacturing of optimized structures has converged with composite materials ideals to unlock previously impossible, high-performance aerospace designs.” said Ethan Escowitz, founder and CEO of Arris, in a prepared statement. “(The Skydio partnership) has fast-tracked this transformation to deliver the next-generation of aerostructures. It’s simply amazing to see such a revolutionary product broadly available and flying today.”

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The Skydio 2 drone, which is the consumer-focused sibling of the Skydio X2.

The Skydio X2 launched earlier this year. It’s notable for a few reasons, and here’s one big one; it’s designed, assembled, and supported in the USA.  The drone industry especially has been met with anti-China sentiment amidst discussion that the U.S. government might ban its own agencies from using Chinese-made drones. In fact, in 2017,  the U.S. Army prohibited its troops from using DJI drones due to cyber-security concerns.

For its part, Skydio X2 is NDAA-compliant, and the drone was selected as a trusted UAV solution for the US Department of Defense under the DIU’s Blue sUAS program.

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