made in the USA DJI drone

Public safety professionals want to buy U.S.-made drones, so why aren’t they?

Buy American? Most public safety professionals want to buy drones that are made in the USA, but they’re not buying U.S.-made drones.

Most drones currently being used by American public safety officials were made in China by, no surprise, DJI. But if those public safety officials could buy an equivalent-quality drone from an American company, they would (or at least they say).

The Fall 2019 Public Safety UAS Survey by Droneresponders, a non-profit organization focusing on drones for public safety, presented 224 respondents with a scenario. They offered them four drones possessing nearly identical quality, capabilities, and price points. One drone was from a Chinese-headquartered company, one drone was from a French-headquartered company, one drone was from a German-headquartered company, and one drone was from a U.S.-headquartered company.

A whopping 88%, (196 of the 224 respondents) said they would purchase the drone from the U.S.-headquartered company.

Whether it’s a general ‘buy American‘ sentiment or whether it’s founded on concerns over some Chinese drone companies not securing data, people say they want their drones made in the USA.

made in the USA DJI drone
A DJI Phantom drone, made in China

But here’s the thing: most U.S. drone companies, particularly hardware companies, have largely failed, leaving businesses that use drones with few options. 3D Robotics was once a media darling, but burned through $100 million in funding before shutting down their manufacturing operations and pivoting to drones as a service. Another exceedingly well-funded company, Airware, started as a drone manufacturer before pivoting to software. Even that wasn’t enough, as its last legs were acquired for an undisclosed (but likely relatively small) sum of money by French company Delair.

“Even powerhouse technology company Intel attempted to compete against DJI, but could not find success in a market where DJI could flood the shelves with low-cost, good-quality drones that were relatively reliable and easy to use right out of the box,” according to a September 2019 Droneresponders white paper.

U.S. aerospace and defense stalwarts such as AeroVironment, Boeing, Lockheed Martin have tapped into drones, but their price point is too high for most enterprise drone operations.

“This would have likely meant increasing their cost of sales while simultaneously lowering their prices (and thus their margins) from their existing lucrative defense contracts in an attempt to pursue and accommodate the modest budgets of most public safety agencies,” the Droneresponders report stated. “That clearly wasn’t going to happen.”

According to the 2019 Fall Public Safety UAS Survey from Droneresponders, the drones used by public enforcement agencies are overwhelmingly made in China, with most made by DJI. 73% of public safety agencies that responded said they use a DJI Mavic drone. 47% of respondents reported using a DJI Matrice series, 46% the DJI Phantom series, and 37% the DJI Inspire series (respondents could answer multiple times if their departments had multiple drones).

And alas, 55% of survey respondents said they already have plans to buy at least one more drone in 2020…from Chinese drone company DJI.

43 Comments

  • CantYouSee says:

    Generally, public officials have little time to research products, do comparisons, etc.
    Unfortunately, DJI got their foot in the door with a package that just works and provided good customer service.
    Plus, there was/is a lot of anecdotal evidence from early adopters.
    They married up their product with some prevalent software platforms that agencies were already familiar with and compared to the competition, their cost per/minute of flight time was much better.
    Then there are the cheerleaders for certain companies, who don’t necessarily concern themselves with certain aspects of a product line or where the products come from, or what harms could come of their use. Flooding the web with lots of articles lavishing praise on a company, irrespective of the potential harms, providing others who aren’t necessarily security conscious, let alone savvy, with a sourced ‘win’ for a product to purchase.
    Finally, once a purchase is made in the public sector, and the thing works, it becomes the path of least resistance…except now it’s finally realized as the problem and risk that it always was.

  • John Sheehan says:

    “This would have likely meant increasing their cost of sales while simultaneously lowering their prices (and thus their margins) from their existing lucrative defense contracts in an attempt to pursue and accommodate the modest budgets of most public safety agencies …That clearly wasn’t going to happen.”

    Boeing and Lockheed could easily bring drones to the public safety, infrastructure and commercial development market …and would in a heartbeat if there were a legitimate concerns over metadata sharing with China. Indeed, they already serve needs of our military industrial complex in those capacities.

    They simply aren’t supporting private sector drone fleet operations such as what Amazon has in mind for consumer goods delivery network operations or utility companies envision for BLOS continuous inspections. It is obviously a cost/benefit analysis since they could easily afford to offer UAVs to public safety stakeholders as a loss-leader in order to capture market share

  • ParrotFlyer says:

    Many of DJI’s competitors seemed to be one step behind in technology. In addition, DJI was often less expensive and had extended insurance/warranty coverage to protect new pilots. Lately, new US based companies seem to be challenging DJI’s front runner status. Skydio with the RS2 (based on early reviews) seems have found a very competitive Drone that will probably give them a run for the money. Impossible Aerospace’s US-1, while a bit expensive, provides flight times that are very impressive and I can’t image Police and Fire departments not giving that aircraft a long look.
    Tariffs, and DJI spreading into other markets outside of Drones could cause a more even market over the 5 years.

    • JCAT says:

      China DJI have no regulations for manufacture. That means parts will fail more often and they do engineer in planned obsolescence. I Suspect they are under cutting the market to create an oligopoly and control the drone market worldwide. That is Chinas goal. They are only concerned with enough quality to attain their goal – BEWARE

  • DroneZon says:

    You are absolutely correct. Many of the manufacturers only supply fixed wing drones which don’t suit a lot of missions. You just can’t beat having a quality quadcopter and that is what the Chinese manufacturers do very well. DJI are still the leaders and one thing about DJI is that they really know and understand marketing and promotion. Their new product launches are a bit like Apple launches a few years back. People just can’t wait to see what is going to be released and they are always a bit ahead with some new innovation. But maybe the American made Skydio 2 drone will make an impact.

  • Jim Mitchell says:

    I am a Nevada film producer and I make every possible effort to buy American products. It’s a tough leap to go from a well-made six-blade Yuneec system (Chinese) for $4200 to a six-blade Vision Aerial Vector System for $17,000 plus another $2000 for a camera gimbal. I can swallow and pay 100% more but not 400% more. And that’s the problem. Drones are either well-made toys like a DJI or they are enormously high-end systems. Nothing is in the middle. I can’t stomach the thought of buying a DJI anything. Our own American dollars have made China a powerful communist tyrant and a increasingly formidable military foe – and it has all been done willingly out of our own stupidity and ignorance as a nation. Try to buy any hardware commodity not made in China. It’s tough. America invented video, cameras, recorders and monitors. Today, you cannot buy an American made consumer camera, recorder or monitor. Same with hammers, drills and ball caps with bills. Shameful.

    • Simon Ireland says:

      Well said. Hopefully Coronavirus Is the opportunity to reset things. I’m Australian and would far prefer to buy an American drone than a chinese product. I’m not anti Chinese, I’m anti CCP and buying anything chinese is funding the CCP.

    • JCAT says:

      Radio Shack used to sell one at $700 with GPS course plotting etc. Then FAA got involved with flight regs etc. I wonder how much of an impact that had here in US.

      • Jim Mitchell says:

        Here’s the problem. The Chinese communist party underwrites the cost of everything made in China. By contrast, our own US federal government only underwrites the cost of farmer’s crops, oil and the railroads. Consequently, USA-made products cost more because manufacturers have to pay full price for materials, full price for labor and more taxes than you can imagine. So here’s what I think happened. USA drone makers said, “There ain’t no way we can compete with the whole Chinese Communist Party. We can’t “out-cheap” them so let’s concentrate on building commercial drones for business, industry, motion-picture producers, NASA and the military. They’ve got the big-bucks and can afford the highest-quality “big birds” that the Chinese don’t make. Those will be our niche.” So now, short of SKYDDIO which does make a great USA-made drone for $1000 bucks, all the rest of the USA-made drones have a cost that’s in the stratosphere. The FAA? Well, anytime you take a federal bureaucracy made to oversee commercial airlines and licensed aircraft that cost anywhere from $250,000 to over 4 million a copy, you’re going to get a laughable federal overreach of mega proportions. Drones were suppose to be simple for hobbyists – not turned into rocket science.

        • Robert Allan says:

          Having worked in the business since 2015 Jim I can tell you its a simple business decision. Few companies have the wherewithal to design, engineer, manufacture, market and support a UAV that can retail in the price range of the Mavic or Phantom. Considerg CyPhy Works, started by a co-founder of iRobot, which was very successful in raising significant amounts of capital ($35M+), They hired dozens of talented people though its hard to say how many of their $100k tethered hex-copters actually sold before they simply disappeared. The smart money ignores the hype on the potential for the market,understanding there are too many platform manufacturers competing for customers who are still trying to understand what they need to invest in order to be successful, even while the rules for operation are being drawn up by the FAA. Firms like Amazon, Zipline, even UPS are defining the direction for the business, which has gone far beyond the days of unreliable hobby level drones, with corporate pilots regularly flying payloads worth in excess of $50k. That is the sector that is my bread and butter, not the company that only wants to buy a single quadcopter and train a single pilot to offer the service to its customers. Of course drone makers will focus on the potential there, and with other entity that is going to purchase more than one or two units.

  • O.D. Smith says:

    I will agree with buying USA as much as possible, I have to much military in me to do any other way. I look at every thing I buy to see where it was made. I will agree with the other comments that are made concerning you cannot buy but few things made in the US? We are selling out to mostly CHINA, one day we will wake up? Sure it cost a few dollars more to buy US but it is worth it.

  • I check every item I purchase and try to only buy products made in the USA. If I can’t find a USA product, I will travel to another store. We’ve passed our own wealth to China and made China great at our own expense. Now, it is time to pull back hard on the reins. Support fellow US citizens by only buying product made in the USA – not made in America which could be south America, Latin America, Mexico or Canada.

  • Robert Allan says:

    Worked several years for a US drone manufacturer. If I had a dollar for every company/government agency who mentioned a desire to purchase American products, we likely would still be in business! Our birds were priced competitively with the DJI hex/ octocopter, targeting customers who needed the capability to swap out heavier payloads on longer missions. Challenges included decision makers who underestimated the total cost of ownership (cases, extra batteries, back up drone, training & transportation) as well as the willingness to circumvent those Buy America purchasing requirements. As others have stated it’s hard to beat the low price tag, and simplicity of the Phantom/Magic/Inspire trio!

  • But Robert, one day when China wants more than just the far-away Spratly Islands in the south China sea and our children look up and see Red Chinese fighter jets that look like F-35’s coming in for bombing runs over their heads, I wonder if they will say, “it’s hard to beat the low price tag, and simplicity of the Phantom/Magic/Inspire trio!”

  • Gladdrone.uk says:

    I am in the UK and a dim drone operator, I fully understand the security issue but cost is a big factor and we don’t make drones, so I ask can we not find away to de-program them and use a native program to block all of Chinese ability to gather data.
    Make it a condition of import that they come Brian dead.
    Just an idea.

    • Kevin says:

      You win, This is the most reasonable common-sense approach to a problem that I saw in this entire thread. The hardware is there, reprogram software. And the problem is solved. Thinking about it, There could be a market here by the low price. Good quality DJI drones. Reprogram them and sell them aftermarket ,or sell an update software and eliminate the Chinese fraud of data theft. I’m just a woodworker. There is a way out of this problem.

      • Chris Mullins says:

        Been employed in the business since 2017. We are aware of several companies in the business who are modifying DJI products for use by Governmental agencies. Believe that it requires swapping out the flight controller and eliminating the ability to connect to the Internet. The process adds a bit to the cost, but these drones are limited in terms of their intended mission. As others have stated, the biggest challenge for domestic competitors, is keeping the price close to the Chinese UAV’s, in light of realities of production and marketing costs.

  • That is a great idea and if this habit of not helping the Chinese caught on, they (DJI) might respond. Good idea. It should be a universal requirement for all drone manufacturers regardless of country. -jm

  • Nader says:

    The traitors ( left oriented and anti American politicians ) in the U.S. forced and pushed out many U.S. Mfg. Companies to out market themselves to our enemies abroad , especially blood thirsty Chinese who have become super rich by sucking our blood (i.e. wealth $) leave us with trashy qualities , unsafe, unhealthy materials and stealing away all American jobs/labor in dry docks . We need to remove traitors and anti American Left/Dems politicians in D.C. who are in bed with our enemies (for their own evil agendas $$$$$$) , and their evil globalization /countries with out border manifestation . We must support and flood the White House with letters/emails to our Patriotic President who now cares for America First and ask him to continue to clean up the swamp/sewage and bring back home and pull out all U.S. Mfg. companies from evil Commie. China before they take over us all ; this is why they used Covid 19 to destroy our economy that was shooting for stars because of our POTUS . We need him in the White House for another 4 years to save us in every way .God will bless America only with our patriotic POTUS .

    • F. G. says:

      put down the moonshine, Billy Bob. You are seeing too many stars and not enough sky

    • Robert Allan says:

      Nader, you do realize that until maybe a year ago, numerous Federal agencies, and at least two military branches were actively flying DJI for a range of missions, right? Not even gonna comment on the rest of that word salad my friend, cause…Merica!

  • mrmikolyski says:

    what is the best economical drone for home security?

    • JCAT says:

      I like the Contixo drones. I believe they are primarily assembled if not manufactured in USA. High quality with adv features like Follow me, auto return home, flight plan,, etc.

  • Marshall says:

    Not mentioning the turbo ace matrix is a journalism failure. Please do your research and not just publicity releases.

  • Jim Mitchell says:

    I reiterate, neutering DJI drones and installing new software is a fabulous solution!!! I’ve got the investment capital. Who wants to start a new business of selling CLEAN Communist Chinese Party drones??? Jim Mitchell DVDs4Less.com Sparks, Nevada

  • Jim Mitchell says:

    Many-many years ago there was a world-renown motion picture camera company in Glendale, California called Mitchell Camera Corporation (no relation). They made the finest cameras in the world but they were LOUD and they were HEAVY. Along came an enterprising new company called Panavision. They started out by buying up all the used Mitchell cameras they could find. They lightened the weight and eliminated the loud sound so the camera was quiet – what was called “blimped.” Next thing we knew, everyone wanted to rent the Panavision camera. They still looked like a Mitchell and shot film like a Mitchell but they said Panavision on the side. Was it legal? Yes because they entirely changed the inner workings of the camera so that it was quiet and it didn’t weigh as much as three elephants and an army mule!

    What does this story have to do with drones? If the body stayed the same but the brain inside that controlled flight and communication with the Internet was swapped out, why couldn’t DJI products be improved, rebranded and neutered so that any information gathering stayed with the owner – not the Chinese Communist Party? Yes, it would be far and away better if the model started from scratch in the USA but sometimes . . . sometimes, you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. Would it be economically feasible to reprogram the DJI product – especially the higher-end models?

  • ice says:

    So does this mean that there aren’t any companies in USA that makes drones similar to the DJI drones? I need to be able to record video footage with a cheap, and small enough drone that I don’t have to register.

  • OCDude says:

    Skydio 2, $999 Manufactured in USA from some sourced parts
    Impossible US-1, Made in USA from sourced parts
    Digital Aerolus Drones, Made in Kansas City, KS USA
    UAV America, made in USA and international supplied parts out of San Diego
    Vision Aerial, Made in Bozeman, Montana

  • nyc123 says:

    The whole point here is to support America and not to buy Chinese period, let them go back to planting rice patties period. no support period.

  • We all need to adopt this mantra:

    Hey – hey what do you say?
    Let’s buy Made in the USA!

  • Paul Dwyer says:

    how many drones are currently manufactured in the United States?

  • Jim Harrison says:

    It is also important to think about all of the reasons that it is so hard, if not impossible, to compete with the pricing of the Chinese drones (and other products).

    Do you think the Chinese manufacturers need to comply with endless environmental, affirmative action, safety, minimum wage, workers comp, labor practices, benefits, etc., regulations the way US manufacturers do?

    And is it possible that Chinese companies are partially subsidized by the CCP for the purpose of allowing them to steal market share and flood the world with these products and kill competitors?

    And do the Chinese companies have to respect patent and copyright laws? Do you think the Chinese companies are subject to liability litigation the way US companies are?

    A lot will need to change to allow US companies to compete in the manufacturing arena against Chinese outfits. This is very far from being a level playing field.

    There are a LOT of reasons why US companies have moved their manufacturing operations offshore, and particularly to China.

    People love to vote for higher minimum wages, stricter environmental regulations, more worker benefits and protections, various “equality” measures etc. It makes them feel virtuous.

    But do they think about “what happens next?”

    The logical result is that the manufacturing just gets exported to someplace with far worse environmental practices, worker safety, pay, treatment, etc. Then those same voters gladly buy these products without thinking at all about how their “virtuous” voting, and thoughtless buying has put their neighbors out of work, or relegated them to only low-paying service sector opportunities.

    US made products will never be competitive with the equivalent Chinese made ones unless voters and consumers think about “what happens next”.

    • el smythe says:

      AMEN!!!

    • Jim Mitchell says:

      Jim, you are 1000% spot-on. Too much “feel good” killed the Golden Goose.

      • Robert Allan says:

        So Jim, we should roll back US health and safety regulations implemented since 1970? Ever been to China or India to experience what it’s like when anything goes?That is why people in some parts of the world are accustomed to wearing face masks. I have an uncle who performed aerial photography back in those days and remember him describing the problems of capturing clear images from a low flying aircraft in the smog around American cities, where there were incinerators as well as emissions from vehicles, factories and power plants. Dilution is the solution to pollution was a popular saving. The problem is that our fellow countrymen want quality products at discount prices!

  • william meredith says:

    What about Plymouth Rock Technologies ? Are they for real ?
    Who are the best American manufacturers out of the bunch of these?:
    Skydio 2, $999 Manufactured in USA from some sourced parts
    Impossible US-1, Made in USA from sourced parts
    Digital Aerolus Drones, Made in Kansas City, KS USA
    UAV America, made in USA and international supplied parts out of San Diego
    Vision Aerial, Made in Bozeman, Montana

    • Eric James says:

      Last time I attended AUVSI’s Xponential or an International Drove Expo, there were at least two-dozen American firms building fixed wing and multirotor drones. Difficult to discern the best, depends on multiple factors such as mission, desired flight time and of course cost. Have worked with several service providers who need to fly eight-10 lb LiDars, or other expensive equipment, worth $50k+which is currently beyond the capability of the smaller DJI products. IMHO many of the American-made UAVs will not appeal to people who were attracted to the Phantom, Mavic or Inspire because of its price, availability and simple operation.

    • JCAT says:

      Please check Contixo. I believe they are US made <$300 for a very nice advanced drone. I doubt it will carry over 2lb of camera weight. It does have a builtin 4k(option). LIDAr probably won't be an option until they are made smaller and lighter

  • Moonshine? Billy Bob? SERIOUSLY????? Go put your head back in the sand.

  • Thank you for the leads!

  • Ron Poynter says:

    Reprograming does not work if there is a hardware “bug” imbedded in the circuit boards like what we hey found in a server last year.

    The only smaller drone the comes close to a Mavic is the Skyido and it’s availability so far is a bit limited.
    Commercial / enterprise size drones are made by several US companies.

    Some issues around sourcing drone parts include motors. The small ones the size needed for Mavic size or racing drones ONLY come from China. (If some knows of a US or a non Chinese motor company please let me know). Castle is a US based maker of ESCs based in KC and there there is a Pixhawk cube Blue flight controller that has all US made components and is US made.

    • Jim Mitchell says:

      Ron, thank you for the update on USA parts and products. The entire country is beginning to see where this Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deal is going with drone manufacturing and frankly, everything else that is paper, aluminum, metal or plastic. Even food. The Chinese people are wonderful. The CCP is not wonderful.

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