China has had a long and eventful history with drones. It all started in the fifties when drones were introduced for the first time. Not many years since then – in 1966, to be precise – China began building its own drones. At first, the production was aided by other countries and partners. However, the country now makes all of the tech for drones from scratch. All of this led to the appearance of the commercial drones as we know today. In 2012, the Chinese drone company DJI launched their drone called S800. This was the point where China marked the beginning of its success story in the commercial drone industry and begun leading in the field of drone manufacturing.
The Chinese drone market is currently the second largest drone market, with the U.S. leading the pack. Just in 2017, China manufactured 2.9 million consumer drones. Part of this success is owed to DJI, as the world largest drone manufacturing company based in China. The company is projected to have 70% of the global drone market share. Understandably, the Chinese drone market reached the value of
The Chinese drone market reached value of 23.8 billion yuan (3.4 billion USD). This market capitalization gives reason enough to peek deeper into China’s drone ecosystem. With all of the above in mind, we will identify China’s success factors, drone applications, key drone players, advanced infrastructure, and more.
Top 4 Reasons Why China is One of the Global Leaders in the Drones Industry
The situation has changed a lot since the past. American and European drone technology used to majorly influence aviation, but now China is influencing it more than ever because of its innovation in this field. While many factors contribute to this change, two very important key ones are logistics management growth and government involvement with drones as one of their industries that they support due to how much potential there is for making money from them when all these new technologies make ideas possible like never before!
The situation has changed a lot since the past. American and European drone technology used to majorly influence aviation, but now China is influencing it more than ever because of its innovation in this field. While many factors contribute to this change, four very important key ones include increased innovation, traffic management, developed logistic network and government involvement and support of the industry.
Lets take a look into them in more detail.
Rapid Development and Innovation
Firstly, the Chinese have become quick innovators. They have found creative approaches and introduced new models of drones on the market. This is largely thanks to Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), which is the driving force of the drone industry in China. The drone company as well as a horde of others in the industry are also known for their rapid innovations, which are connected to advanced features, improved safety, and enhanced user experience.
Unmanned Traffic Management
Another aspect of the development of the drone industry in China is unmanned traffic management (UTM). There are projects in this field that focus on coordinating drone operations over various cities in real-time. Drone Cloud, mentioned in a report issued by Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), is one example of such. Besides the government, companies like Unifly and Huawei are also working together on the field of UTM systems as well as on identification and tracking of drones. In fact, this represents a basis for the development of the commercial drone industry.
China constantly grows its logistics network with the help of drones. On account of its geographical density, it has many areas where drone delivery has proven to be helpful. For instance, the Chinese startup Antwork has started delivering medical supplies to hospitals by drone. Then, some rural areas of the Hebei province that were isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic got their supplies thanks to the delivery efforts of JD.com drone crew.
Finally, the Chinese government is one more reason why China is advancing so fast. As part of the nation’s drones development strategy, Chinese government invests great amounts in aerospace and technology, while driving forward the acceptance and utilization of drones in different sectors. This concept is highlighted in the Made in China 2025 initiative. Further, the Made in China 2025 strategic plan highlights aerospace equipment and drones among the industries the country will focus on. What’s more, DJI is named as one of the leaders in the key industries. This strategic plan plays a key role in the nationalization and leading position of the aerospace sector on a global level. According to projections by International Air Transport Association (IATA), China is soon set to become the largest aviation market for passengers.
Drone Industry in China: Mapping out the Key Players
The Chinese drone industry really focuses more on manufacturing drones than offering services. It’s true that the landscape of drone manufacturing companies is vast, ranging from commercial to agriculture and everything in between! But, one simply can’t avoid DJI, which has become almost like a synonym for the Chinese drone industry. Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology Co., Ltd (or just DJI for short) has become one of the leaders in China and the entire world. Founded by Tao Wang and his colleagues in 2006, the company has now grown into a corporation that frequently launches new drone models. A true testament to that is the 11,300 patents that the company has filed as of the start of 2020. Furthermore, proof of its number-one status in this field is $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017.
“I didn’t know how big the market could be. Our idea was to just make the product, feed 10 to 20 people and have a team.”
– Tao Wang (Frank Wang), the CEO of DJI, on the company’s beginnings
An interesting fact is that these companies have been working on their expertise in certain fields. For instance, XAG’s focus is entirely on agriculture and the drone application to alleviate this field. EHang is considered by many a pioneer in air mobility or sometimes known as drone taxis. Then, IntelliFusion has been working on visual artificial intelligence solutions for UAV systems, whereas the MMC UAV’s drones are, among other things, aimed for inspection, search and rescue missions, mapping, and more. Syma Toys has the necessary drone products for beginners.
Further, companies in other niches have embraced drones. SF Express, for one, works with delivery systems and logistics. And it has made it to the headlines by becoming China’s first company that has a drone operator license. Similarly, one of the country’s biggest online retailers – JD.com – has been working on a drone delivery network, covering hundreds of rural villages.
Drone companies have quickly adapted to the COVID-19 crisis and made sure to include drones in helping other nations. Chinese-manufactured drones have undergone pilot flights for delivering testing kits, vaccines as well as disinfecting virus hotspots. Drones equipped with software for crowd management and detection of the virus have taken flight, too, making sure that people stay safe at home.
How are Drones Utilized Commercially in China?
Drones find their place in many industries and businesses across China. One of the most widespread, though, is agriculture. Understandably, the industrialization of agriculture and the increase of population brought the need to get help with taking care of the crops and monitoring their progress. So, drones fly over the crops, spraying, observing their growth, and performing other similar agriculture processes.
Being able to reach tight and hazardous, drones are desirable in specific industries like mining, maritime, energy, and others. Through their cameras, they can capture images and videos of these hard-to-reach places, and help people learn about potential risks and prepare. In this direction, they perform well for mapping terrains that haven’t been discovered before or aren’t easily accessible.
A large portion of the commercial usage falls on aerial photography and videography. Moreover, high-quality photos taken from above and from different angles are popular on weddings, showings of real estate properties, and such activities. Even the advertising world and the movie industry utilize them more and more in recent years. Connected to this, the Chinese like to include drone technology for entertainment and recreation. More precisely, drone light shows have become more common across the country like the one in Tianjin, for instance. As many as 500 drones participated in that show as well as at the official World Intelligence Conference opening.
After that, these shows are more common and people flock to the squares to watch the magic unfold in the sky before their eyes.
As for recreation, China still has some barriers for drone hobbyists. However, as this technology spreads and improves further, the prices are drooping and the opportunities increasing. These way drones are reaching a much bigger audience of Chinese enthusiasts.
The popularity of drones among individuals and organizations has been increasing since the launch of the registration system for Chinese drone users in 2017. To illustrate, around 371,000 users were registered as of 2019. The majority of them are individuals (around 320,000), whereas the rest of the 50,000 users are enterprises and other institutions.
Infrastructure that Supports Drone Innovation
Advanced drone infrastructure has to be in place to support drone innovation and usage. An important aspect of the infrastructure are the so-called Chinese drone hubs. One such hub is Shenzhen, which has a nickname – the Chinese drone capital. The city was a home for over 360 drone companies in 2018 and since then the number has been growing. Further, in the first half of the same year, the city’s UAV exports have reached more than 600,000 drones. Its success, among other things, is mainly due to the policies which endorse R&D, funding opportunities, and the supportive environment.
Shenzhen isn’t the only spot. A drone base has popped up in Shanghai’s Jinshan Industrial Zone, too. It’s a place for fostering drone testing, as well as research and development. Subsequently, China’s national aviation body, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) plans to introduce the first Unmanned Civil Aviation Experimental Zones or UCAEZs. These drone-friendly zones will cover as many as 13 Chinese cities and will be a training ground for testing innovative drone applications and supporting new drone businesses.
Drone-friendly zones like these will surely attribute to future development of drones and of the entire ecosystem. It’d be interesting to see what these zones and hubs will come up with next.
The Drone Industry Development Doesn’t Stop Here!
As with other global drone ecosystems, China is also constantly evolving and developing. Emerging technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cloud technology, and more will certainly expand drone usage.
Additionally, the country has a plethora of urban areas and rural areas as well as places where nature blooms. This are more than enough reasons to attract travelers and explorers of drone photography and videography that love to put China’s beauty in a drone shot.
As far as entertainment and sport goes, China is very supportive of drone racing. In fact, the Grand Final of the 2019 FAI World Drone Racing Championship took place in Xiangshan Ningbo. The amount of different drone manufacturers, makes China as drone racing paradise. After all it is fun but very challenging sport as far as repairs of the quads goes.
Lastly, the country has a firm vision for its future with drones. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology predicts the market value of the drone industry to reach 180 billion yuan (about 27.7 billion USD) by 2025. So, alongside the drone industries in countries like Australia and Switzerland, the Chinese one is breaking new grounds in drone innovation and inclusion in people’s everyday lives.
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