In May 2017, DJI introduced Spark, its tiniest drone yet and the first that can be controlled by hand gestures, for just $499. The company packed computer vision and object tracking into a pocket-size 11 ounces that you can launch from your palm—no device pairing, remote, or app required. If a user simply frames her face with her fingers, the hovering Spark will snap a 12-megapixel selfie, comparable to a photo taken on an iPhone X.
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“We’re focused first on tech,” says Michael Perry, managing director of DJI North America, which dedicates more than 25% of an 11,000-strong workforce to R&D. In addition to being the first company to create a drone that can be operated via hand gestures, DJI was also the first to include obstacle-avoidance features (in its Phantom 4 model). According to Skylogic Research, DJI commands more than 50% of drone sales across North America—and some analysts peg its global market share of the nearly $6 billion drone industry at almost 75%.
DJI is now expanding to enterprise, populating a variety of industries with robotic fleets. Firefighters conducted more than 120 drone flights during the Santa Rosa, California, wildfire using DJI equipment, and the company won a 2017 technology and engineering Emmy for enabling the sweeping aerial shots featured in shows such as Game of Thrones and The Amazing Race.
The thrust of DJI’s tech-first approach is to make drones easier to fly. “The more people get their hands on the technology,” Perry says, “the more potential drones as a whole category will have.”