Maker of drones gets $75M boost

Updated: 2015-05-11 03:46

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily USA)

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Maker of drones gets $75M boost

A Phantom drone from SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd takes flight during the 4th Intergalactic Meeting of Phantom's Pilots in the Bois de Boulogne area in Paris in 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd dominates the world's low-end commercial market for drones, and the recent investment the company received reportedly values it at about $8 billion.

Venture-capital firm Accel Partners made the $75 million investment in DJI, according to a May 6 report in The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper said DJI is talking with other investors, and that its fundraising could ultimately raise its value to value $10 billion.

Founded in 2006 by Chinese entrepreneur Frank Wang, Shenzhen-based DJI generated nearly $500 million in revenue in 2014, up from $130 million in the prior year. It expects to exceed $1 billion in sales this year.

DJI's Phantom 3 Advanced Quadcopter Drone with 1080p HD Video sells for around $1,000 in the United States on said Phil Finnegan, an analyst with aviation consultancy Teal Group. This is used mainly for tasks like site inspections, real estate promotions and video production," he said. Competitors for DJI in this segment include 3D Robotics in Berkley, California, and France's Parrot.

Finnegan said the global market for drones similar to the DJI Phantom 3 is now valued at about $1.5 billion. "DJI has about two-thirds of that market," he told China Daily.

"The higher-end commercial market (for drones) is still in a nascent stage," Finnegan, said, noting that high-end services such as thermal imaging and 3D mapping will require larger and more expensive drones. "DJI doesn't make those at this point," he added.

Sameer Gandhi is a partner at Accel and led the investment in DJI. He wrote in an e-mail that Accel has traveled around the world to meet with more than 100 UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)-focused hardware and software companies.

"It is rare to find a company that introduces a radically new technology on a global scale, while offering unmatched value to both consumer and enterprise customers. DJI has accomplished this with the world's most recognizable UAV technologies" Gandhi said.

"We (Accel and DJI) share the long-term vision of creating a next-generation robotic platform to open the skyways to all kinds of consumer and business applications. Its technology will influence dozens of industries, including real estate, manufacturing, videography, agriculture and more," he said.

Drones are controlled autonomously or by pilots from the ground. The US market for more sophisticated drones is being limited by a policy from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that restricts commercial drone flights to line-of-sight operations at altitudes of 500 feet or less. Due to safety concerns, US companies are banned from using drones unless they obtain an FAA exemption. The FAA proposed rules in February to lift the ban, but final regulations are not expected until late 2016 or early next year.

On May 6 the FAA said it would allow PrecisionHawk and BNSF Railway to test drone flights outside the line of sight of pilots. As part of this Pathfinder Program, the television-news network CNN will be allowed to test drones over cities.

"Until the rules are finalized the commercial market for drones will be limited," Finnegan said.

Gandhi said that prior to DJI, Accel led an investment in California-based Skydio, which created a technology that uses computer vision and motion planning algorithms along with image sensors and processors, enabling users to navigate drones with incredible control in respect to their surroundings.

Founded in 2006 by Chinese entrepreneur Frank Wang, DJI generated nearly $500 million in revenue in 2014, up from $130 million in the prior year. It expects to exceed $1 billion in sales this year.