image

Technology

Chinese drone maker specialising in agricultural services wants to see products fly off the shelves

Farmers in China are increasingly adopting flying robots because of its cost and speed advantages

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 6:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 11:45pm

Guangzhou-based XAircraft, a drone maker specialising in agricultural services in China, has launched four new unmanned aerial vehicles aimed at increasing its dominance in the sector.

“In the coming three years you will see explosive growth [in agricultural use drone market],” said Peng Bin, founder and chief executive officer of XAircraft.

He said he has already introduced the company’s products to farmers in markets such as Japan, South Korea and Japan.

Peng said there were two major obstacles - cost and ease of use - hindering wider use of crop-dusting drones among farmers in China. The drones are not cheap considering the new products are priced between 19,999 yuan (US$3,017) to 59,999 yuan. But he said his company has made the UAVs user friendly and easy to repair and maintain.

Peng said that the company hopes to make drones widely affordable for most farmers soon.

Zhang Ziyang, a 24-year-old fruit grower from Hubei province in Central China who attended XAircraft’s product launch, said he wanted to try the flying robot and maybe buy one. “It is safe and cool to use crop-dusting drones,” said Zhang. “The device, if I buy, will not only spray pesticides for my own fields but also other farmers’ crops in my hometown. I believe most planters will be willing to pay me for the crop-dusting service, especially the younger generation.”

The drones can cover large areas in a short span of time and have an advantage over labour costs and traditional farming equipment. The company said that during a test conducted in 2015, it managed to spray 1,650 acres of rice fields with its drone in three days.

The use of drones is becoming increasingly popular among Chinese farmers. Official data showed that the area covered by the UAVs for crop dusting reached 4.7 million acres in 2016, more than twice the area covered in the previous year.

In June, China made it mandatory for all drones weighing more than 250 grams to be registered. Owners of the flying machines over the weight limit had until August 31 to register them. But despite the nascent regulatory environment, the country has a booming drone manufacturing sector. Shenzhen, an hour’s drive from XAircraft headquarters, is home to the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, DJI, whose revenue was 10 billion yuan last year.

XAircraft’s Peng said that while “competition was fierce and it was not easy to survive”, he hoped to increase the company’s revenue to 300 million yuan this year from 47 million yuan in 2016.

“We will build technical barriers to prevent other companies from accessing the agriculture industry.”