Future tech

Xiaomi on track to enter drone market this year

Smartphone maker Xiaomi has filed dozens of intellectual patents on drone technology, fueling speculation that it could be about to diversity into remote-controlled recreational vehicles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 7:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 2016, 7:04pm

High-flying Chinese technology start-up Xiaomi has made at least two dozen patent filings last year and formed a company in Guangzhou to prepare for its widely speculated entry into the consumer drone market this year.

A source in Xiaomi who asked for anonymity because the company has not publicised the plan said the company will released its drone in 2016.

Xiaomi, which has become one of China’s largest suppliers of smartphones, would be the most high-profile domestic competitor in recreational drones to Shenzhen-based DJI, the world’s largest supplier of consumer drone products.

According to patent claim documents from the State Intellectual Property Office, the 24 patents filed by Xiaomi cover a wide range of drone technology including structure design, power unit, shock absorber, remote control and image transmission. One patent document detailed a drone device that can be controlled by gesture and can automatically follow the user.

Guangzhou Feimi Electronic Technology applied for most of the patents either independently or together with Xiaomi Technology. Government records showed Guangzhou Feimi is founded by an investment arm of Xiaomi, Tianjin Jinxing Investment in 2014.

The investment company invested 4 million yuan (HK$4.74 million) into Guangzhou Feimi. The Xiaomi-owned company has a wide investment portfolio including news media, smart home devices, TV production and water purifier.

Xiaomi’s drone company is also recruiting more staff. In December it posted advertisements for several engineering and administrative openings in Beijing and Shenzhen on a Chinese recruiting website zhaopin.com. According to the company’s profile on the site, it currently has more than 100 employees.

Another company called Beijing Feimi technology shared the name of a legal representative with Guangzhou Feimi. It was established last year with registered capital of US$ 5 million (HK$38.75 million), according to government information. Beijing Feimi is controlled by a Hong Kong company with the same name that was registered by an offshore company in British Virgin Islands, according to Hong Kong company registry.

Analysts believe Xiaomi could find traction among consumers seeking branded affordable drone offerings.

“Xiaomi is not likely to enter the hi-end market,” said Alex Ng, a telecom and hardware technology analyst from China Merchants Securities (HK). “There are many manufacturers in the mid-to-low market but there is no high-profile manufactures like Xiaomi in this segment yet.”

The marker leader in drone tech, DJI from Shenzhen, produces high-end flying vehicles for aerial photography that retail around US$1,000.