Most popular and innovative Chinese drone companies
Since 2006, China's DJI has gone from start-up to the world’s No 1 drone manufacturer. The company now has a 70 per cent share of the global civilian drone market and is also one of the world’s most highly priced start-ups, with some estimates giving it a valuation of as much as US$10 billion.
DJI's great success has inspired many Chinese entrepreneurs and companies, and sparked the interest of the country's venture capitalists, who are now investing readily in the consumer and small commercial drones market. SCMP staff reporters have sifted through this fiercely competitive industry to find some of the most promising companies. Their inclusion is based on the technology they offer, funding received and the combination of their flagship drones’ accessibility, affordability and performance.
In 2006, mainland-born Frank Wang Tao graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and set up a company in Shenzhen, China’s hardware hub that was once dubbed “the world’s workshop”. Since then, DJI has grown from 50 employees to 3,500, with sales skyrocketing from three million to 3 billion yuan annually. DJI's Phantom range of camera-bearing drones has become the market leader, in part thanks to hundreds of videos on social networking sites such as YouTube showing off the devices’ high-definition aerial photographs.
Founded in 2015, Zero Tech counts Rapoo Technology Company, one of the world's biggest mouse and keyboard makers, as its primary backer, with a more than 50 million yuan investment. Zero's Xplorer quadcopter series sells for 4,999 yuan, putting it in direct competition with DJI’s 6,000 yuan Phantom 2. According to the company, the Xplorer has all the functions of DJI’s Phantom 2 but with some added features such as a built-in Wi-Fi extender and powerful battery, and a better hovering and rotating capability.
In December 2014, Ehang raised US$10 million Series A in a round led by GGV Capital that included two well-known Chinese angel investors - Xu Xiaoping and Nick Yang – and PreAngel Partners, the venture firm that also funded Alibaba Group. The company was rated one of the top 50 innovative Chinese companies in 2014 by Fast Company. The key selling point of Ehang’s Ghost range is ease of use, or what the company describes as the “world’s easiest drone to fly”, controlled using a mobile app on smartphones, the pilot uses GPS and maps to operate the drone.
XAircraft was set up in 2007 in Guangzhou. In 2014, the company announced a US$20 million series A funding round led by Chengwei Capital. XAircraft manufactures several models of drones ranging from hobbyist quadcopters to professional aerial photography rigs. They also make the flight controllers, camera gimbals, and other accessories. Training, building, and repair services are also available.