According to an Oppenheimer report released earlier this year, DJI enjoyed a 70% market share in the sale of consumer UAVs. With the company valued by investors at $8 billion, this is a phenomenal result given how crowded the ‘drone market’ has become.
If you’re wondering, DJI stands for Da-Jiang Innovation. The company was established just ten years ago by Frank Wang, a graduate of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Incidentally, Forbes places the DJI CEO 48th on its China list with a net worth of $3.6 billion.
DJI opened its flagship store in Hong Kong on 24 September. This was DJI’s third, following the setting up of stores in Shenzhen and Seoul. Latterly, DJI opened a fourth store in Shanghai.
I trotted along to the Hong Kong venue to find out more about why DJI is so popular among consumers. Whilst there, I saw the latest products, including the 743g Mavic Pro that was launched in October; it is almost pocket-sized. This compact UAV measuring 198mm x 83mm x 83mm folds up for easy transportation but sacrifices no features found in other mainstream UAVs.
The Phantom is the bestselling product in DJI’s range, with the newest variant, the Phantom 4 Pro+, released in mid-November. Elsewhere, the Inspire 2 designed with filmmakers in mind was also launched last month. The Matrice 600 is another platform for professional filmmakers.
Kevin On, DJI’s associate director of communication, listed five key sectors where it believes UAVs have the highest potential for adoption: agriculture, cinematography, inspection of energy infrastructure, construction and infrastructure, and emergency response.
Time savings, as well as safety issues, are obvious for such applications. For example, it is more efficient to use a UAV to examine a wind turbine tower or an electrical pylon than it is to send a worker scaling up one. Meanwhile, plumbing pipes on the outside of an apartment block can be examined by a UAV more efficiently than a worker clambering up and down scaffolding.
DJI has 17 offices worldwide and a global workforce of 6,000. The majority are based in Shenzhen, China, and around a third of the firm’s employees are engineers, reflecting the emphasis that DJI places on innovation. It also produces its own gimbals and cameras, which allows better optimisation of its UAV designs.
While the UAV industry is still relatively young, On agreed that the market is becoming crowded. He noted that putting a UAV into the air is not the hard part, but having it do something useful and making it safe, reliable and easy to navigate is far more difficult.
While the USA, Europe and China are DJI’s biggest markets overall, On said the biggest interest in the rest of Asia came from Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. He noted that these are areas where the adoption of technology is high.
Another innovation in which DJI is investing heavily is robotics and artificial intelligence. Currently its UAVs employ simple machine learning but, as technology progresses, machine learning will become more complex and enable the UAV to make informed decisions. Obstacle avoidance is an obvious application of this kind of technology.
On provided three reasons for DJI’s success: making its products safer, more accessible and easier to use.
Based on its lion’s share of the global market past and present, that formula seems to be working. However, one must expect competition to intensify from both within and outside of China.