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China’s Zero Zero Robotics comes up with new drone for ‘selfies’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 12:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 12:28am

China is poised to pad its lead in the global market for commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, more widely known as drones, as start-up Zero Zero Robotics releases a new smaller, consumer-friendly device.

“We are opening up a brand new market for drones,” Zero Zero founder and chief executive Wang Mengqi told the South China Morning Post.

Wang described the company’s new Hover Camera drone as the first “proximity drone” in the market, designed for consumers to take selfies instead of doing aerial photography.

Technology research firm IDC has forecast global shipments of mainland Chinese-made camera drones -- widely popularised by industry giant DJI -- would hit three million units by 2019, up from an estimated 390,000 this year.

Zero Zero’s new drone is about the size and shape of a paperback novel, which a user unfolds to reveal a device that is 3.6 cms thin, 22 cms long and 18 cms wide.

Wang claimed the Hover drone, which will release commercially at the end of this year, is the first such product in the market equipped with so-called artificial neuron network technology, which mimics how the human brain works.

That feature enables the drone to recognise its user’s face, body and the environment, according to Zero Zero. It also makes it possible for the drone to track a user, while avoiding obstacles along the way.

Wang said Zero Zero was a year ahead in bringing to the market a drone that is built small, possessing advanced artificial intelligence and used primarily for selfies.

“Consumer drones are becoming the ultimate selfie camera, but with advanced capabilities,” said Raj Talluri, a senior vice-president at Qualcomm Technologies, the research and development unit of United States-based mobile chip supplier Qualcomm.

Hugo Swart, a senior director at Qualcomm, pointed out “the market for smaller consumer [camera] drones can be as big as the [GoPro-type action camera and digital single lens reflex camera markets] combined”.

DJI currently dominates sales of drones to the mainland Chinese and US markets. According to IDC, Shenzhen-based DJI has more than 68 per cent market share in China.

Data from the US Federal Aviation Administration showed more than 45 per cent of the small drones registered with it as of end-January were made by DJI.

Alex Ng, an analyst from China Merchant Securities in Hong Kong, said DJI and other mainland drone makers will likely catch up with the features of Zero Zero’s Hover.

“DJI’s products are already well developed, so it won’t take long for the company to make similar products [as the Hover],” Ng said.

Zero Zero, which was established in 2014 in Beijing, has raised new financing to support its expansion plans. It announced on Tuesday it closed its first round of private equity financing worth US$23 million from major investors that include IDG, GSR Ventures and ZhenFund.