California-based drone software company 3DR has joined forces with Chinese drone manufacturer Yuneec in a new venture: 3DR Government Services.
The pair will seek to market solutions for sensitive commercial drone applications to the US government and its various branches.
The move, announced at the InterDrone conference in Las Vegas this week, combines several layers of technology from a number of parties involved with the Dronecode project – an open source platform aiming to push common standards across the drone industry.
Yuneec brings the hardware. The company’s bright orange H520 hexacopter has a variety of payload options, redundancy systems, and safety features.
3DR’s specialism is in software. The 3DR Site Scan platform provides a cloud-based tool for drone-enabled mapping and modelling applications.
The first product from 3DR Government Services is the Yuneec 3DR H520-G, which includes the complete 3DR Site Scan UAS platform, and a smaller controller designed for Apple iOS devices.
The package also includes integrations with Autodesk and Esri: platforms for the construction and geospatial industries, respectively.
The elephant in the room: DJI
The elephant in the room of this announcement is the US government’s complex relationship with the drone industry’s leading manufacturer, DJI – especially in the context of rising trade hostilities between the US and China.
DJI is estimated to hold more than 70 percent of the global hardware market. The Chinese giant has also branched out into commercial operations, with several hardware and software releases aimed at professional pilots and niche applications.
In fact, both 3DR and Yuneec have had to shift their business models to account for DJI’s dominance. 3DR started out as a consumer drone company before admitting defeat in the battle to compete with DJI. Yuneec, meanwhile, has also pivoted towards the commercial market, without completely abandoning its roots.
In recent years, however, concerns have been raised in the public sector over DJI’s data security practices, particularly as the company’s aircraft are being used in sensitive government and military projects around the world.
DJI missed out on participating in the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone Integration Pilot Program, which has opened up US airspace and waived regulations for a handful of intrepid, explorative applications across the country.
Although not explicitly mentioned, the release statement from Yuneec and 3DR appears to play on the idea that DJI’s dominance is something to be wary of.
Its stated aim is to meet “the demand for vendor choice by government agencies and contractors at the federal, state, and local level, along with increased need for open platforms that can be security certified.”
CEO of 3DR, Chris Anderson, said, “This joint venture cements a strong relationship that goes back to the start of Dronecode and the shared belief that an open software platform would help the drone industry to grow and mature faster, just as it has in so many other industries.
“For US government customers who are increasingly looking for US-based trusted solutions, this combination of global leaders in hardware and software provides the best of both worlds.”
Plus: More headlines from InterDrone
As you’d expect, the new partnership between 3DR and Yuneec isn’t the only headline from the InterDrone conference. Here is a roundup of some of the other big stories this week.
Parrot launches new commercial products
French drone manufacturer Parrot has announced two new commercial models: the senseFly eBee X and the Parrot ANAFI Work. The new drones offer a fixed-wing option with 90 minutes of flight time for mapping at scale and an all-round aerial imagery solution, respectively. The ANAFI Work continues Parrot’s trend of repurposing its consumer drones for commercial applications.
Skydio targets commercial drone users
Speaking of which, California startup Skydio has announced the release of the Skydio Autonomy Platform. Essentially, the company is making the brain behind its $2,000, fully autonomous drone available to third-party developers. Using it, they will be able to build new ‘skills’ on top of the existing autonomy engine and iterate solutions using Skydio’s virtual simulator.
The move could pave the way for the Skydio R1 to become the go-to hardware platform for commercial users.
Yuneec launches new thermal payloads
Aside from targeting sensitive operations with 3DR, Yuneec has expanded its commercial payload offering with the E10T, a thermal camera with dual optical and thermal imaging, specially developed for inspection, safety, and search and rescue applications. The E10T camera is available in two versions: 320 by 256-pixel or 640 by 512-pixel thermal resolution, each with different lens options.
Internet of Business says
Both the US and Australian militaries banned the use of DJI products last year, citing “cyber vulnerabilities”. The fear is that DJI hardware and its associated applications could leak data back home to China – far from ideal when it’s used for sensitive infrastructure, security, and military projects.
With the US moving to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and an escalating trade war underway, now is as good a time as any for a domestic rival to loosen DJI’s hold on the market – even if the new joint venture includes yet another Chinese company.
Since concerns were raised about DJI’s products, however, the drone giant has moved to reassure customers by releasing a report commissioned into its data practices, unveiling a ‘privacy mode‘ for pilots, and repeatedly stating that its US customer information is securely held on US servers.