06 November 2015

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Chinese firm DJI leads new 'drone age'

Time and time again we hear that distinctive buzz. It seems these days, anyone -- with a few hundred dollars to spare -- can be a proud owner of a small, recreational unmanned aircraft.

And when you hear that telltale hum, it's more than likely from a camera drone made by China's DJI. The company behind the sleek Phantom is the leader in consumer drones with well over 70% of the global market. "We innovated with our Phantoms, with our drone line and with our professional line of cinema equipment," DJI product manager Paul Pan tells me at company headquarters in Shenzhen. "It comes down to us being seen not as a Chinese company but as an international player."


The China advantage Drone maker DJI explains why being in China has given it a leg-up on the competition. 02:10 Though DJI underplays its Chinese origins with its Western-friendly corporate branding, the company admits that being based in Shenzhen has been a big factor behind its success. "We base our technology, manufacturing and our R&D here in China because everything is much more accessible, making it quicker to develop products," says Pan.

Based in China's so-called "maker capital," DJI can essentially design a part in the morning and then drive to a nearby factory to see it manufactured that afternoon. Less restrictive regulations also makes it easier for DJI to get their drones in the air in China. "It's easier to go out and just test and fly here," says Pan. "If you're in the U.S., you have to get licensing to be able to do things commercially." That said, China recently announced a curb on exports of advanced drones, a move to tighten control over technologies that are key to national security. DJI has insisted the export restrictions will not impact any of its core products, which are geared more for consumer use.

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