Skydio’s self-flying drone can now be controlled using just an Apple Watch

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Skydio, the California-based drone maker that specializes in self-flying software, is announcing a new update today that will let owners of its R1 drone launch, control, and even manually fly the drone entirely from an Apple Watch. Since the R1’s launch earlier this year, the company has positioned its self-flying drone, which uses artificial intelligence to provide advanced obstacle avoidance and automated piloting, as perfect for action sport enthusiasts. Now, with Apple Watch support, Skydio hopes it will open up new possibilities for people to easily film themselves with the R1, while doing all types of outdoor activities.

In a park in San Francisco earlier this month, Skydio co-founder and CEO Adam Bry showed me the Apple Watch integration in real time, using my own Series 4 model strapped to my wrist. The new smartwatch feature set will let you launch and land the R1 by tapping and sliding up on the Apple Watch display from within the Skydio app. From there, you’re able to select a subject to track and then initiate any one of Skydio’s new cinematic shooting modes, including its drone selfie mode and its cable cam mode that lets you pin two points for the drone to travel between on its own.

Image: Skydio

With the Apple Watch app, you can also manually pilot the R1 with a simplified set of the on-screen controls, including a rotate option that uses the digital crown, that are similar to those you get with the full-fledged smartphone app. Because the R1 never stops avoiding obstacles, you never have to really worry about steering the drone into a tree or some other object.

I gave it a shot myself, and it was a pretty flawless experience. I was able to capture some footage from the R1 doing a dramatic pull away selfie clip, and Bry also showed me how you can use the Apple Watch to switch R1 shooting modes or the tracked subject on the fly, which is useful for when you’re on a run or riding a bike with a group.

One new benefit for R1 owners Bry pointed out to me is the ability to capture stabilized video footage from the drone itself, which should improve the 1080p video clips, like the one above, that you get in the smartphone app right after capturing. (The R1 itself stores the 4K footage and needs to be plugged into a computer to download it for editing.) And another new feature added to the Apple Watch version of the app will let you easily send the R1 back to the last known location of your phone, in the event the drone loses track of you while moving through a dense area.

The new features are all launching today with a new Skydio mobile app update. The Apple Watch version comes bundled with that, and you’ll be able to install it if you head over to the iOS Watch app and scroll down to the “Available Apps” section. The drone itself is now for sale for $2,000 from either direct from Skydio’s website or from Apple, thanks to a new partnership with the iPhone maker that will put R1 drones in retail stores in the US and Canada.