Will we see drones manufactured in the U.S.?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about drone manufacturing. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

Do you think we will see Drones manufactured in the U.S.? There are many fine products on the market at this time but of course we feel a loyalty to our country! I own 5 drones so far !

-Pat

Hey Pat!

You bring up a very interesting point. While I would also love to buy American-made products to support U.S. businesses, the reality is, most of the drones in the world are not made in the U.S.

There have been a number of attempts at U.S. manufactured drones, but none have succeeded. “Solo” drone maker 3D Robotics was based in Berkeley, Calif, with a large office in San Diego, Calif. (its main manufacturing plant was just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico) but it has since transitioned away from manufacturing commercial drones after laying off a number of staff. San Mateo, Calif.-based GoPro also laid off employees after recalling its Karma drone because they were falling from the sky.  Though, the Karma drone is back on the market. In January, the makers of San Francisco-based Lily, a widely-hyped drone that never actually made it to market, announced they were calling it quits and would refund those who made pre-orders.

The major companies that are left — DJI, Yuneec and Autel — are all Chinese companies, and many of the smaller drone companies are also mostly based outside of the U.S.

I discussed this phenomenon with Steve McIrvin, CEO of Autel Robotics USA.

“What’s surprising to me is that DJI, Autel and Yuneec are all headquartered in China,” McIrvin said. “There aren’t many American companies left.”

autel x-star flying
Autel’s X-Star drone flying in the distance

Autel is a Chinese-based company, though has a major office in Washington.

But there is one set of companies you would expect to be making drones — that aren’t.

“Traditionally, photography has been a hallmark of Japanese companies,” he said. “Where are those guys? I’d love to see a drone from Canon or Nikon.”

But building a drone is a lot different than just building a camera. You have to build the camera and so much more.

“Drone hardware development is very difficult,” he said. “It’s resource intensive. You have to be on the cutting edge of so many different fields – cameras, computer vision, deep learning. All these are highly technical fields.”

Then, drone makers need to develop the drone in a way that is safe and easy for any customer to use.

Some of it has to do with the manufacturing, which Chinese companies historically have experience doing. McIrvin said the Chinese government also has a very startup-friendly atmosphere.

So to answer your question, in a nutshell, no. The biggest players in drones — primarily DJI which has what some analysts peg at a 70% market share — are all Chinese companies. The U.S. has a poor track record for making drones.

That’s not to say that the U.S. should give up on its drone industry. The U.S. hosts many successful drone companies that just aren’t manufacturers. Where the U.S. likely will succeed is in fields such as drones as a service — seen in companies like Measure— or creating the software that enterprise companies use to operate drones, such as DroneDeploy.

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