This year, drones figured prominently in Mary Meeker’s massive presentation about the state of the web. This is not a surprise as the growth of drones is quite phenomenal and global. Consumer drone shipments grew 167% in 2014, to 4.3 million units. Demand is growing for drones to monitor public safety or shoot film footage, while businesses are exploring new applications, including farming, real estate or retail. Just in the US, more than 400 companies are already approved to operate drones commercially.
Growth fueled by innovation
Significant technological advancements are fueling the growth of drones in the last few years, and with an increased demand of drones for commercial applications, innovation in the drones market is accelerating. For example, the world’s largest drone maker DJI just unveiled yesterday a powerful obstacle avoidance system. Simply called guidance, the system relies on an array of ultrasonic sensors and stereo cameras to detect objects up to 65 feet (20 meters) away and keep the quadcopter at distance. This is a big leap forward as reliable and avoid technology is the key to enable ambitious projects like Amazon’s Prime Air. Actually, DJI research teams in collaboration with Intel are already using the guidance system to detect illegally parked cars from the air at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Drones, the new commodoties?
Another Chinese company might soon enter this fast-growing market: Xiaomi. As usual, the Chinese phone manufacturer is moving fast, ultra-fast, faster than Samsung, Google or even Apple. The Mi Band has already propelled Xiaomi to world’s second biggest wearable manufacturer within a year. We’ve been also reporting for a while now that Xiaomi has a clear lead in China in the battle of the Internet of Things. The fastest growing start-ups in China offers actually everything from GoPro-like cameras to air purifiers. So, the entry of Xiaomi in the drone business seems very predictable.
Xiaomi has apparently invested in a small firm called Flymi, which will produce its drones, using Xiaomi’s Android-based MiUI software as a platform. Obviously, price will be a key-differentiating factor if Xiaomi is to effectively compete with Shenzhen-based drone maker DJI. We’re guessing here that Xiaomi will apply its strategy of producing its own cut-price versions of a DJI-like product, making commercial drones at a price affordable for most gadget consumers.
So, don’t be surprised to see the first official Xiaomi drones launch later this year.