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Tech Forecast

Phantom Maker DJI May Become The First Billion-Dollar Drone Company

The Hong Kong-based company is projecting $1 billion in sales this year.

[Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Da-Jiang Innovations, maker of the popular Phantom quadcopter drones, is tracking toward another banner year. The company earned $500 million in revenue in 2014, according to The Verge, and expects to more than double that total in 2015, solidifying its position as the leading manufacturer of consumer-friendly flying robots.

Now, after bootstrapping since its founding in 2006, DJI is looking to secure enough venture capital and fend off its rivals, The Verge reports. Those competitors, including 3D Robotics and Parrot, collectively raised $108 million last year, based on an analysis by CB Insights.

From a regulatory risk standpoint, the timing is right to invest: In February the Federal Aviation Administration released revised rules for drones that are paving the way for broader adoption. Drone enthusiasts, who had been facing increased pressure from local law enforcement, welcomed the new regulatory framework with a sigh of relief.

DJI, one of the nascent industry's market leaders, has carved out one of its most lucrative niches, landing it on Fast Company's 2014 list of the Most Innovative Companies. Its drones are easy to set up and priced for consumer use—the Phantom, for example, retails for under a thousand bucks—but capable of capturing professional-quality images. In contrast, 3D Robotics entered the market by catering to DIY hobbyists, and Parrot has built its reputation on introductory models that are more toys than tools.

That positioning has worked to DJI's advantage, freeing it from having to develop custom functionality for specific industries while making it the drone of choice for commercial operations. If archaeologists or firefighters want to modify a DJI drone for a specific use case, they can use the company's open platform to develop applications.

"The gap between professional and hobbyist use is really blurring," Michael Perry, a DJI spokesperson, told me last December. He described a farmer who bought a Phantom "for fun," and then realized after a storm that the drone would be able to quickly assess his property's damage from above. "The consumer side of it has ended up making it a widely adopted commercial tool."

Compared to the skittish but acrobatic Parrot AR.Drone, DJI's Phantom is indeed a pleasure to fly. I've found that it remains stable even in high-wind conditions, returning big-screen quality video when a GoPro is attached via gimbal.

"It’s a tool that inspires creativity and innovation," Perry says. "We try to inspire people by showing the breadth of what it can do."

[via The Verge]

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