Drone mak­ers reach for the sky

Lat­est de­vices can fol­low users as they walk, cir­cle sub­jects

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By FANFEIFEI fanfeifei@chindaily.com.cn

Wei Yi­long, a 27-year-old am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher, who set up a video stu­dio, is tak­ing his hobby to new heights and ap­pre­ci­ates the com­pact­ness of fold­able drone for aerial pho­tog­ra­phy.

“The drone can fold up neatly and be car­ried in a bag, along with my lap­top, bat­ter­ies, smart­phone and charger. It is re­ally very easy to carry any­where com­pared to the drones I used be­fore.”

The drone used byWei was man­u­fac­tured by DJI In­no­va­tion Tech­nol­ogy Co and he has used it in San Fran­cisco.

“I have ex­pe­ri­enced all the drone range made by DJI, in­clud­ing the Phan­tom and In­spire se­ries. How­ever, the Mavic Pro has more in­tel­li­gent func­tions for shoot­ing, apart from its porta­bil­ity.”

The “pock­etable” un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle, or drone, is no longer a flight of fancy and the con­cept has taken off from the draw­ing board and into the skies. Drone man­u­fac­tur­ers are step­ping up ef­forts in fold­able and in­tel­li­gent prod­ucts and this will see the con­sumer drone mar­ket take flight, an­a­lysts said.

In the past, quad­copters as they are of­ten called, seemed to be al­most ex­clu­sively for pho­tog­ra­phy en­thu­si­asts, but with the launch of easy-to­carry and com­pact drones, or­di­nary con­sumers are now able to buy an in­ex­pen­sive drone for shoot­ing images and their own en­ter­tain­ment.

See­ing tremen­dous po­ten­tial in the back­pack-sized small drone mar­ket, DJI In­no­va­tion Tech­nol­ogy Co, China’s largest com­mer­cial drone man­u­fac­turer, un­veiled a fold­able drone, the Mavic Pro, in Septem­ber.

It is DJI’s first drone de­signed to be taken just about any­where, weigh­ing just 743 grams, about half of the weight of the com­pany’s Phan­tom 4. Its fold­ing de­sign com­presses the en­tire drone to the size of a wa­ter bot­tle.

More­over, it con­tains more high-tech el­e­ments. The drone can fol­low users as they walk around, cir­cle sub­jects and main­tain a con­stant height. Users can con­trol the drone com­pletely with their ges­tures and even take a hands-free selfie.

Frank Wang, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of DJI, said: “In the past 10 years we were al­ways think­ing about how to op­ti­mize the op­er­a­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of drones and never stopped up­dat­ing the prod­ucts in ei­ther their ap­pear­ance or func­tion. We hope users can tell an aerial pho­tog­ra­phy story in an un­prece­dented way.”

Founded in 2006, the Shen­zhen-based DJI cur­rently ac­counts for 70 per­cent of the global con­sumer drone mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

Other for­eign and do­mes­tic drone man­u­fac­tures are com­pet­ing fiercely in the bur­geon­ing mar­ket and in­vest­ing more in the com­pact and fold­able drones.

Just about one week be­fore DJI’s launch of theMavic Pro, US ac­tion cam­era man­u­fac­turer GoPro Inc re­leased the Karma drone, which also fea­tures a com­pact de­sign and could fit in a small back­pack.

GoPro said its Karma drone can run for 20 min­utes. The com­pany also an­nounced theHero5 and the smaller, cube-shaped Hero5 Ses­sion.

Chi­nese in­ter­net gi­ant Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd also launched, in Oc­to­ber, a 425gram drone that en­ables users to upload pho­tos and live stream­ing videos to WeChat, its in­stant mes­sag­ing app, to share with fam­ily and friends. It also fea­tures WeChat’s video-call­ing func­tion.

The Ying drone is co­pro­duced by Ten­cent and drone maker ZeroTech In­tel­li­gence Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd. Its $299 price tag is com­pet­i­tive espe-

cially after con­sid­er­ing the fact that DJI Mavic Pro and GoPro Karma are priced rel­a­tively higher.

Most con­sumer drones weigh over 1,000 grams, and need spe­cial bags to be taken out­side. The lack of porta­bil­ity had be­come a ma­jor prob­lem for drone en­thu­si­asts.

With the rapid growth of portable and en­ter­tain­ment­type drones, at af­ford­able prices, the con­sumer drone mar­ket is pre­dicted to take off.

In­dus­try ex­perts es­ti­mate the value of the do­mes­tic civil­ian drone mar­ket will reach more than 70 billion yuan ($10.4 billion) by 2025 and the drones for aerial pho­tog­ra­phy and en­ter­tain­ment are ex­pected to ac­count for a 30-billion-yuan mar­ket.

“Easy-to-carry and fold­able drones rep­re­sent the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment trend in the con­sumer drone mar­ket. DJI is likely to main­tain a dom­i­nant po­si­tion world­wide in tech­nol­ogy, mar­ket­ing and sales chan­nels, com­pared with its ri­vals,” said Zhao Zim­ing, an an­a­lyst at in­ter­net con­stancy Analysys in Bei­jing.

DJI has al­ready set up over­seas stores in Seoul and Hong Kong and in­vested heav­ily in re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

“More­over, the con­sumer drones tend to be more in­tel­li­gent, ap­ply­ing vis­ual and voice recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy and high def­i­ni­tion im­age trans­mis­sion tech­nol­ogy,” said Zhao.

Sta­tis­tics from Analysys In­ter­na­tional showed the do­mes­tic civil drone mar­ket is ex­pected to grow from 3.95 billion yuan this year to 11.09 billion yuan in 2018.

Zhao said the drone which cen­ters on en­ter­tain­ment and so­cial net­work­ing func­tions might at­tract or­di­nary peo­ple to buy, boost­ing sales in the lowand­sec­tor. More­over, it may drive more in­ter­net com­pa­nies and star­tups to en­ter the com­pet­i­tive drone in­dus­try. Last month, a startup named Zero Zero Ro­bot­ics re­leased its selfie drone, the Hover Cam­era Pass­port. Users just use fin­gers to con­trol the al­ti­tude and the hor­i­zon­tal di­rec­tion while the cam­era’s pitch and drag can be con­trolled with a touch.

Jean Xiao, a re­search man­ager who tracks drones and wear­able prod­ucts at mar­ket re­search firm IDC, said the fold­able and com­pact drone mar­ket may not wit­ness an ex­plo­sive growth, just yet, due to pol­icy re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing flight du­ra­tion and al­ti­tude.

Xiao said “it is a trend that con­sumer drones will sin­gle-fin­ger be­come more in­tel­li­gent in the fu­ture be­cause the cen­tral pro­cess­ing unit of drones is greatly en­hanced by ma­jor chip­mak­ers Qual­comm Inc, In­tel Cor­po­ra­tion and Nvidia Corp.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by IDC, ship­ments of aerial pho­tog­ra­phy drones reached 40,000 in China dur­ing the third quar­ter of last year. It es­ti­mated that ship­ments will in­crease to 390,000 units this year and surge to 3 mil­lion units by 2019, with the com­pound growth rate reach­ing 68 per­cent in the next five years.

It said com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket be­low the 5,000 yuan en­try-level will be­come fiercer. The num­ber of drone man­u­fac­tur­ers will fur­ther in­crease as aerial pho­tog­ra­phy drone so­lu­tion providers join hands with in­vestors, and in­ter­net com­pa­nies en­ter the mar­ket.

As drone mak­ers face tougher reg­u­la­tions and more com­peti­tors, re­lated poli­cies and stan­dards should be fur­ther im­proved, ex­perts said.

ex­pected value of China’s do­mes­tic civil­ian drone mar­ket by 2025

WANG ZHUANGFEI / CHINA DAILY

Drones on dis­play at an in­dus­try expo in Bei­jing.

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