The story behind DJI’s Inspire

Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

The new Inspire 1 started shipping this week. We went behind-the-scenes with Eric Cheng to find out more about the meaning behind the copter.

Where did DJI’s drone name “Inspire 1” come from?

‘“The process of naming is fluid,” says Eric Cheng, Director of Aerial Imaging at DJI. “It’s collaborative.”

He tells me this after a DJI press event to announce the Inspire 1. As staff members break down the remaining chairs, photo booths and even drone cages, at an event venue on Treasure Island, just off the coast of San Francisco, Cheng sticks around, talking to everyone present.

Cheng joined DJI last year, but was already well known among dronies. Maybe it was his background at Lytro, where he served as Director of Photography. Or perhaps it was his myriad of award-winning underwater photos Maybe it was his leadership within the drone community already, as he came into the mainstream eye with video of surfers shot from a drone (watch below).

Aerial footage of surfers at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz (DJI Phantom) from Eric Cheng on Vimeo.

But back to the naming of the new drone. That’s what you clicked on.

“All the futuristic sci-fi names are already taken, like the Predator,” Cheng says.

It’s not like you want to name a product that is under the scrutiny of millions of Americans the Predator though, right?

“Triumph was the internal code name,” he says.

“I sort of like that,” I told him. It’s like the feeling when you successfully make that first, heart-pounding flight. It’s when you realize you’ve gotten some stellar footage.

Apparently not everyone likes it. DJI is large — it’s grown from 20 people to over 200 in just a few years. Everyone wants to have input.

They use chat rooms to communicate and throw around ideas.

“It’s sometimes difficult because we are global,” Cheng says.

China’s offices use QQ. In the U.S., they use WeeChat.

Cheng is quick to whip out his iPhone and show me his app, Wee-Chat, the company’s go-to lifesaver of sorts. He isn’t afraid to show me the chat groups. There’s one called Perry’s Playhouse, named after DJI’s charming PR frontman, Michael Perry.

“This whole event was coordinated on WeeChat,” Cheng says.

Really? I have a hard time believing that. I can’t even coordinate a movie night on WeeChat. And since a lot of people had a hard time believing robots could fly in year 2015, you never know with a company like DJI.

And not only do people now believe it — and can potentially see it everyday at weddings, sports games and beaches, they have been inspired by it.

“The roots of the company are to inspire you,” he says.

Of course, what copter name would be complete without a matching hashtag?

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