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The Next Big Thing

Intel vows to 'revolutionise' drone industry after US$60 million gambit on Chinese start-up Yuneec

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 August, 2015, 8:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 12:54pm

Intel has a road map to “revolutionise” the commercial drone industry after it became the latest multinational to take a measured gamble on a Chinese drone maker this week.

The venture capital arm of the US personal computer and chipmaker has invested US$60 million in Yuneec, which has operations in Hong Kong and Shanghai, it said. 

"We've got drones on our road map that are going to truly change the world and revolutionise the drone industry,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a video posted on Yuneec’s website.

"At Intel we believe in a smart and connected world. And one of the best ways to bring that smart and connected world to everyone and everywhere has been drones," he said.

According to media reports, this is the third drone company Intel has invested in globally after Airware and PrecisionHawk, two American manufacturers.

WATCH: Intel and Yuneec discuss US$60 million deal and future product collaboration

The news comes in the same week that Chinese drone maker Ehang raised US$42 million in a series B round of funding and Japan’s Sony unveiled its own drone prototype due out in early 2016.

The Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen opposite Hong Kong in Guangdong province is home to scores of drone makers including DJI, which leads the global market for civilian drones with a more than 60 per cent share.

WATCH: A drone journey - Yuneec Typhoon Q500 + ground solution steadygrip contest

But as China carves out a leading role in the industry and develops its own technology, the central government this month said it would restrict exports of high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. 

Industry insiders suggested the move was more aimed at military than civilian drones, however, amid concerns that the technology could fall into the hands of hostile parties.

Yuneec was keen to buttress the news of its latest windfall by highlighting how easy its flying gadgets were for beginners to use. 

In the same video posted on its site, chief executive Tian Yu said that a controller with a built-in screen makes the hardware “very easy to learn” and that first-time users can expect to see their drone “take off within five minutes” of getting their hands on it.

In China, drones are especially popular among hobbyist photographers and users of GoPro cameras, which they can often attach to the device. 

But their usage has come under closer scrutiny in countries like China and the US in recent months out to concern that they may be put to harmful use, or accidentally obstruct rescue operations or intefere with the flight controls of regular aircraft.

One of Yuneec's Typhoon drones was apprehended in the American state of Maryland this week on suspicion it was going to be used to smuggle contraband into a maximum security institute. California authorities also recently blamed civilian drones for obstructing their efforts to contain raging wildfires. 

Founded in Hong Kong in 1999, Yuneec makes a range of drones built for aerial photography and imaging. It also makes the technology used in electric-powered airplanes.

One of its models, the Typhoon Q500, retails for US$1,299 in the United States. It can record images of 4K quality or slow-motion video with a resolution of 1080p at 120 frames per second, the company said.

Drones have a variety of other uses including water and disease control in farming, faster and more accurate mapping, and gathering large amounts of data for agricultural use.