Axon — the law enforcement company that makes Tasers, police body cameras, and other police and military technologies — has announced a new partnership with US drone company Skydio. Through the new deal, Axon will become the exclusive provider of Skydio’s drones (like the Skydio 2 and X2) to law enforcement and police agencies, while Skydio will be able to offer Axon’s drone-based software tools, like Axon Evidence and Axon Respond on its drones.
Both tools are largely observational in nature, so they wouldn’t be turning the drones into weapons. Axon Evidence is used to compile footage, similar to how Axon’s existing body cameras work, so that the drones can offer additional perspectives on a situation. Axon itself explicitly announced in 2019 that it won’t be “commercializing face matching products.” Similarly, Skydio’s CEO has previously told The Verge that it won’t be weaponizing its products.
Skydio itself already sells drones to police departments, too — the Chula Vista, California police department is already a customer, for example, complete with limited FAA approval to use those drones beyond visual line of sight in emergency situations. But the Axon deal opens the door to make it much easier for departments to buy Skydio’s products in the future.
The Skydio deal isn’t Axon’s first drone partnership; back in 2018, it launched its “Axon Air” program in partnership with DJI, offering Axon software on DJI drones sold directly by Axon. Axon says that it’ll still be continuing its partnership with DJI, too, telling The Verge that “that no single drone platform covers every use case faced by public safety,” and that having a US-based company like Skydio “has greater potential to unlock opportunities in the federal market.”
DJI’s Chinese ties have effectively sidelined it from US government work. DJI is headquartered in Shenzhen and its drones are largely made in China with Chinese parts, leading some officials to worry that DJI drones could be vulnerable to a supply chain attack by the Chinese government. The Department of the Interior grounded its DJI fleet in October 2019 over security concerns from spying or cyberattacks. The Department of Justice banned the purchase of foreign-made drones with agency funds last October. The Department of Defense’s list of approved drones only includes products from Skydio, Parrot, and Vantage, with DJI notably absent from the list.
DJI was also recently added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List, which aimed to sanction DJI for enabling “wide-scale human rights abuses within China,” when the company provided drones to the Chinese government to surveil detention camps in the Xinjiang province.
And while DJI is still able to sell its drones in the US to consumers, Skydio in particular has already managed to capitalize on the government’s blacklist of Chinese drone companies, and it recently became the first US drone company to reach a $1 billion valuation.
Skydio CEO Adam Bry told The Verge last year that it still intends to stay in the consumer drone business and that it won’t be arming its drones. “We have more products coming in that market that we’re excited about,” said Bry.
But government and military deals are unquestionably a big part of Skydio’s plans. Last year, the company debuted the Skydio X2 (an exclusively military and enterprise-focused drone that will be one of the models sold by Axon). Skydio also already has existing deals with the Air Force and DEA and is undergoing assessment by the US Army to be part of the Short Range Reconnaissance Program.
Update March 11th, 11:45am: Added additional details on Skydio’s existing police customers.
Update March 11th, 5:20pm: Added information on Axon regarding its current DJI partnership.