Friday, March 24, 2017

Why DJI is succeeding in making and selling drones and 3DR didn’t

Posted on 10/17/16 by Frank Tobe

It was clear that DJI was winning the drone war by the end of 2015. Today's best sellers are mostly DJI products. Other makers (Parrot, 3D Robotics, Autel, Yuneec et al) haven't been able to capture any significant portion of the camera drone market. Most saw the writing on the wall and began switching to becoming drone service providers in other marketplaces.

Shenzhen DJI Innovations

Shenzhen-based DJI has thousands of employees and access to capital, talent and components. They are nearby to all their component suppliers. They have a domestic as well as international market. They move fast and have continued to improve and professionalize their products. They help their clients private label their drones. Their two biggest competitors, Yuneec and Parrot, have amassed less than 5% of the market - combined.

DJI's latest product is the Mavic Pro, a novel compact and foldable drone that has every feature of earlier DJI drones with the addition of more advanced collision-avoiding computer vision. It is forecast that the Mavic Pro will be the hit of the 2016/2017 Holiday Season. According to Drone Flyers, a news portal focusing on the drone industry, it’s likely that over 80% of the $300-$1,500 drone market will go DJI during the 2016 Christmas season.

The GoPro Karma, long anticipated by GoPro fans worldwide, was introduced in September with shipments promised in time for Christmas. They've stopped accepting orders on their website and it's rumored that shipping has been pushed back to Spring 2017.

The commoditization war

Today's drone makers are fiercely competitive and all are re-jiggering their business plans to accomodate to DJI's dominance. With two new deep-pocketed competitors (GoPro and Xioami) entering the market - and all competing in the consumer camera drone marketplace - it's hard to see how a non-Chinese provider can succeed in that particular mass market. Niche markets, yes; camera drones, no.

In this fast-changing market, the time lag between design, manufacturing, selling and feedback is one major reason. But another is the Shenzhen climate for electronics manufacturing... there's nowhere else like it; nowhere else that can move as quickly; has so much manufacturing talent; and no place where costs are the lowest because all the major component manufacturers are there.

3D Robotics' demise

3D Robotics was a bit behind in coming to that conclusion. They had visions of becoming the great American hope with their Solo product but, with a combo punch of being late and buggy during a period when DJI launched two much better and cheaper products, Solo never took off and 3DR was stuck with a significant inventory of unsold product - another hazard of buying product from China.

Early this year 3DR initiated a serious retrenching with a series of layoffs and office closures and is refocusing on becoming a professional drone service provider for the agriculture, surveying, construction, security, infrastructure and other verticals. Their staff has gone from 350 to less than 80. There is no information about what today's head count is.

Last year, 3DR's cofounder Jordi Munoz left the company. He's now running a robotics startup in Chula Vista, CA, Mayan Robotics. Co-founder and CEO Chris Anderson said the company would continue shifting its focus towards the corporate market and attempted to raise $45 million but was only able to get $27 million earlier this year.

See also: 3D Robotics undergoing layoffs and other challenges

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About the author: Frank Tobe

Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report and co-founder of ROBO Global which has developed a tracking index for the robotics industry, the ROBO Global™ Robotics & Automation Index. The index of 82 companies in 13 subsectors tracks and captures the entire economic value of this global opportunity in robotics, automation and enabling technologies.

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