With an eye toward growing their share in a highly competitive and burgeoning market, drone manufacturers are either flying solo, or joining forces with giants in other sectors.
Current products are interesting to consumers because they can buy them. But it’s pushing for what they want next in the nascent consumer drone sector that is really driving attention. For the brands who provide that kind of innovation, that’s also what’s going to drive their business. and business.
In many sectors, being ahead of the curve is as bad as being behind the curve. Get too far in front and people don’t understand your technology or the use of your product. Fall behind and it’s who wants to buy old technology? In both cases the result is that you don’t move product.
In today’s consumer-drone sector, being ahead of the curve means you’re able to create and define the industry’s technology with never-before-seen innovations. So much of what happens next in the sector depends on the size and quality of a manufacturer’s R&D staff. A closer look at some of the players in the consumer drone sector shows vastly different sizes, capabilities and approaches.
Yuneec Yuneec has built up its own R&D facility and team, after receiving $20 million in funding from Qualcomm and another $60 million from Intel. KmelRobotics, a technology company acquired by Qualcomm, worked with Yuneec to write flight algorithms and develop the company’s latest flight controller. This new flight controller can be found in Yuneec’s latest model drone, the Typhoon H.
Intel began a global effort to reach into other parts of the tech sector, placing its bet on Yuneec in the Chinese drone sector. Able to provide only limited support to this subsidiary technology, Intel contributed their C/C++ Demo code to Yuneec and gave it the RealSense feature developed with Ascend that will eventually be used aboard the Typhoon H drone.
Since Yuneec doesn’t have the internal resources to create this technology, it’s also having trouble adapting it and utilizing it for its desired obstacle-avoidance feature on the Typhoon H. This was proven during the most recent CES 2016 show, as Yuneec was still unable to demonstrate the technology without additional modules, even in a controlled environment.
Zerotech Zerotech was one of the earliest drone companies founded in China. Headquartered in Beijing, it was funded to the tune of $7.6 million by Shenzhen Rapoo Technology – a large Chinese producer of computer mice – in January 2015.
Zerotech’s approach has been somewhat bifurcated due to its own limited R&D capacity. In January it announced it was teaming up with Internet portal Tencent and Qualcomm to produce a sort of “mini-drone,” which was soft-launched last month. That’s dependent on a Qualcomm flight-control platform and focused on being more of a flying personal selfie-stick than a drone.
At the same time, the company has its Xplorer line, with the latest, upcoming craft – the Xplorer 2 – also supposed to feature Qualcomm onboard.
3D Robotics Some stories in the drone sector don’t have happy endings. What sounded like a great, entrepreneurial idea – depending on an open-source development model – attracted nearly $100 million in funding.
But 3DR acknowledged earlier this year that it had produced too many Solo craft and had been outmaneuvered by rivals in terms of both speed of technological development and price and announced it would focus more on enterprise, rather than the more-fickle, faster-moving consumer sector.
DJI Shenzhen-based DJI is the leader in the consumer drone market, in terms of share/units sold. The company also has cornered the market on Chinese engineering talent, boasting that it has 1,500 research and development staff. DJI has set a blistering pace, and it sometimes feels as if DJI puts out new technology too fast for markets to quickly adopt and absorb, but while other companies work on their one-year cycles and one or two product lines, DJI seems able to move more quickly and put out more new products into more market segments than rivals.
What remains to be seen is how long DJI will be able to sprint in what is ultimately going to be a marathon for the hearts and minds of consumers.