Chinese drones gaining global market share with advanced technology, cost advantage

By Li Xuanmin in Xi'an Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/14 20:43:40

Makers gaining market share with advanced technology, cost advantage

An employee of DJI flies the new Mavic 2 Pro drone at the flying area of a DJI store in Hong Kong in August. Photo: VCG

China's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology has reached a world-class level, and its military-use UAVs have gained a larger share of the global market in recent years, especially in economies along the routes of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), industry insiders told the Global Times on Thursday.

"China has a competitive edge over US and European companies in terms of its industry scale and in making small and medium-sized UAEs thanks to the country's base as a major manufacturer as well as technological upgrades in other related sectors such as artificial intelligence," Wang Junbiao, the president of the UAV Institute under the Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU).

Wang spoke with the Global Times on the sidelines of an industry forum on intelligent unmanned system in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

In September, a solar-powered drone developed by NPU, known as the Meiying-6, set a new flight time record of 19 hours and 34 minutes despite extreme weather conditions, according to media reports.

"China built UAE for military purposes at first, but Chinese companies then identified a huge potential market for integrating it into civilian applications, and that has led to explosive market growth at home," Wang said.

China's ever-expanding group of consumers who are willing to try new technology also buoyed the domestic booming market, he added.

"Made in China" drones are very welcome in the US market, Brian Wynne, the chairman and CEO of the US-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, told the Global Times on Thursday on the sidelines of the forum, which was co-hosted by NPU and the Chinese Institute of Electronics.

For example, Shenzhen-based DJI alone has more than 50 percent of the market in the US, Wynne said. "Chinese UAVs cost less and are very innovative… Most of the US market up until now has been for hobbyists, and increasingly there will be [Chinese UAEs] coming for commercial operations," he added.

Wang pointed to the inroads that Chinese military drones have made in the global market as evidence of China's advanced technology.

"If we say the military UAV market is highly competitive, China is doing a pretty good job and has 'taken in a larger share of the pie' in UAV sales in overseas markets, especially in countries and regions along the BRI," Wang noted.

He declined to reveal the main international customers of China's military UAVs, citing commercial secrets.

China's growing share in the international UAV arms market was also on vivid display in terms of sales of Rainbow-4 drone models, whose buyers have reportedly included Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Myanmar and other countries.

Wang said that the biggest advantage of China's military UAVs is the ability to supply a variety of products as well as the devices' key characteristics of protecting national security rather than launching a war. But he admitted that the US-made drones may have more real combat experience than Chinese models.

Another downside is that the industry players need to tap more application of UAVs in China, a DJI spokesperson told the Global Times over the weekend.

"China is leading not only in technology, but also industrial chains and talent… [however] China can make wheels, but the US is better at using them to produce new things, and we should learn from and cooperate more with the US in this regard," the person added.

Wynne said China and the US could maintain a good working relationship to facilitate a unified standard for drones.

Newspaper headline: Nation’s drones fly high in global skies


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