Business / Technology

Drone maker soars to greater heights

By Qiu Quanlin (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-05 08:16

Research focus helps Chinese firm gain an edge in domestic, global markets, reports Qiu Quanlin in Shenzhen, Guangdong.

It took just nine years for DJI Technology Co to develop from a small company of six people to a global leader in the manufacturing of drones, with more than 3,000 employees.

In 2006, the Shenzhen-based firm, which now makes commercial and recreational unmanned aerial vehicles, as drones are officially known, was just making vehicles without moving cameras.

At that time, drones were used only for commercial purposes, given that the cost of an individual unit was more than 200,000 yuan ($32,200), said Shao Jianhuo, DJI's vice-president.

"Since then we have made great strides in developing new products by installing safe moving cameras on units and helped open a huge consumer market," said Shao.

Not surprisingly its efforts have paid off as its business has grown, particularly after launching its Phantom series of unmanned aerial vehicles in 2012, especially overseas markets. According to the company, its sales reached about $130 million in 2013, up almost 80-fold from just three years earlier.

Company sources said its strong and sustained growth over the years has made it the world's largest consumer drone maker and one of the fastest-growing technology companies.

"Our business growth over the past few years was mostly driven by sales in overseas markets as we focused on the international market from inception," said Shao.

Years of research and development of camera drones for civilian use have also paid off. DJI now accounts for nearly 70 percent of the world's small-scale consumer drone market, with its products being sold in more than 100 countries and regions, he said.

"The drone industry is expected to develop rapidly in the next few years as a growing number of people have developed an interest in the product and more companies have joined the industry," said Shao.

DJI grabbed global attention in January when a Phantom drone flown by a Washington DC resident crashed into the White House grounds in the United States.

In China, a growing number of people started to show an interest in the products after Chinese rock star Wang Feng used a DJI drone to hand deliver an engagement ring in a basket for his fiancee Zhang Ziyi in February.

Shao attributed DJI's increased overseas business to the company's added focus on research and development of consumer-oriented drones and better perception of foreign consumers.

"Compared with the overseas market, domestic consumers are yet to develop an interest in advanced drones, as it is something that takes up a lot of time and money," Shao said.

According to Shao, more than 80 percent of the company's products are now sold in overseas markets.

"Our drones, from those used by the flight control system to others created as data backup system for cameras, have been developed indigenously. Innovation has also helped reduce the price of our drones," Shao said.

According to Shao, a camera drone for professional use costs about 17,000 yuan, while a drone designed for civilian use is about 5,000 yuan.

DJI has opened three overseas branches in the US, Germany and Japan, with more than 200 employees.

"The overseas subsidiaries have been set up to attract top local talents to join our R&D team," said Shao. The company launched the latest in its market-leading Phantom range of camera drones last month in New York, London and Munich.

The advanced model, which can fly and shoot videos for 23 minutes on full charge, comes with a 1080 pixel camera capable of shooting 60 frames a minute.

The company also sent dozens of its latest commercial drones to join rescue work in Nepal after a devastating earthquake, which killed more than 7,000 people.

"The drones have helped improve rescue efficiency," said Shao, adding the drones could be used for both commercial and recreational purposes.

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