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Inside The World’s First Billion Dollar Consumer Drone Company

Source: The Verge
By: Ben Popper

DJI is about to become the first billion dollar consumer drone company The company did around $500 million in sales during 2014 and is on pace to double that this year

Over the last two years DJI has emerged as the world’s most popular consumer drone maker, at least by revenue. And The Verge has learned that the company is currently in talks with Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms to potentially raise a new round of funding. Sources familiar with the negotiations say DJI reported around $500 million in revenue for 2014, roughly four times what it did in 2013, and is on pace to do about $1 billion in sales this year. The potential valuation of the company would be a healthy multiple of that, several billion dollars, although no deal has yet been finalized.

The company helped bring small, powerful drones to the masses with its Phantom line of quadcopters, our favorite unit during last year’s testing. In doing so, the Shenzhen based firm became one of the first Chinese companies to help forge a new category of consumer electronics at global scale. The Phantom was simple enough for beginners, but powerful enough to interest serious hobbyists, professional photographers, and filmmakers. Last year we dubbed it “the kleenex of drones,” and that ubiquity has become a very big business.

With over 2,800 employees, DJI now has offices in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Tokyo, and Kobe. It sells several different variations of its Phantom drone, as well as its higher-end “prosumer” unit, the Inspire One, and its much larger S-class units. It also has a popular line of gimbals used for stabilizing cameras during flight, and has translated that technology into a handheld camera stabilizer, the Ronin, used by film and TV professionals.

drone funding

CBI Insights found drone funding was up 104 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The company was founded in 2006 by Frank Wang, then a student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Originally DJI was centered on building flight control systems for model helicopters, which Wang had loved since childhood. But as multi-rotor drones began to gain popularity, Wang deftly turned the company toward that market.

Before the Phantom, most highly capable consumer drones were sold to serious hobbyists and required a lot of assembly and know-how. The French company, Parrot, had a simple, popular unit with its A.R. Drone, but that was not a very powerful craft. The Phantom represented the first relatively cheap drone that came ready to fly out of the box, but boasted top of the line flight control systems. They also had a potent pitchman in Colin Guinn, who we met for the first time at SXSW in 2012. North America represents DJI’s biggest market.

Mr. Guinn has since left for rival drone maker 3D Robotics, which two weeks ago announced a $50 million round of funding led by Qualcomm. And Parrot recently released its own more powerful quadcopter, the Bebop, taking direct aim at DJI’s Phantom line. Up until now, DJI had taken on relatively little outside capital, preferring to bootstrap the business. But as competition heats up, it is considering taking on venture capital to help maintain its lead and potentially branch out into new sectors of the booming drone market.

The post Inside The World’s First Billion Dollar Consumer Drone Company appeared first on UAV Coach.

Flying a Drone Inside the World’s Largest Cave


Ryan Deboodt, an aerial videographer, takes us on an otherworldly journey through Sơn Đoòng, the world’s largest cave, by both ground and air.

Located near the Laos-Vietnam border, Sơn Đoòng cave was only discovered in 1991. It wasn’t until 2009 that it was officially deemed the world’s largest. If you’re wondering why it took that long, I suggest picking up a copy of Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth. It’s one of the most exhilarating books I’ve ever read and gave me an admiration for the amazing amount of logistics and psychological fortitude required to be a deep cave adventurer. Unreal.

Anyways, back to Sơn Đoòng. Ryan filmed the cave near its entrance and the first and second dolines (skylights), which are 2.5 and 3.5 km inside the cave respectively.

Ryan’s aerial videography rig:

Canon 6D Canon 16-35mm f4 DJI Phantom 2 GoPro Hero 4 Black

Check out more from Ryan at his website, on Instagram, or on Facebook.

The post Flying a Drone Inside the World’s Largest Cave appeared first on UAV Coach.

Applications for UAVs in Civil Engineering

Note: The following article comes from Sam over at Civil FX. Read more about Sam in his bio below. Want to write for UAV Coach? Kick us a note at alan@uavcoach.com.

uav civil engineering industryThe horizontal nature of civil engineering lends to some practical and creative uses of UAVs in the industry. From planning to final construction, nearly every stage of the engineering process can benefit from the aerial craft.

While there are those that are slow to adopt new ideas and the government is only now working towards universal commercial laws for UAVs, there is still incredible potential in the field, today and in years to come.

It should be noted that many of the tasks required of UAVs are already taking place on many large projects, just carried out by full sized airplanes and helicopters. These include aerial mapping, LiDAR scanning and taking footage and photography for promotional purposes. However, as these tasks are handed over from manned to unmanned craft during this transitional phase smaller projects will be able to benefit from these uses. Costs will drop and the barriers currently in place for participating in aerial mapping and photography will become a reality for nearly all projects.

Additionally, while even the largest projects currently are usually flown only once due to the cost involved, in the future the mapping applications (both 2D imagery and 3D surfaces) can be more of a dynamic process with multiple flights throughout the life of the project. This can help in updating design imagery and surfaces and also help management track construction progress.

While these improvements on existing technologies will surely be welcomed to engineers and contractors alike (and those in the commercial UAV industry that capitalize on these new opportunities), there are a few less obvious uses of UAVs in civil engineering that I find particularly interesting.

Granted, my entire career is focused on 3D visualization in civil engineering so I’m a little biased, but utilizing unmanned craft in methods similar to how the movie industry is using them has surprising potential.

Currently, when we want to show existing conditions for a project we have to use photos and aerial imagery to recreate these areas in 3D. The process is time consuming and the results aren’t typically great. However, if you were able to fly a project and collect the incredible footage we are seeing from UAVs these days, you could potentially use the power of special effects to avoid existing condition modeling altogether. Through the process of compositing you could possibly combine the existing aerial footage with a virtual 3D flythrough showing a proposed project with realism beyond what is currently possible.

The other area where UAVs can transform 3D visualization in civil engineering as we know it is through the use of photoscanning. This is related to the current LiDAR/surface capturing techniques but differs in the fact that surfaces are rebuilt using only cameras (no laser scanning necessary). But not only can you capture the surface of the ground, photoscanning can capture the entire world as it currently exists. This includes trees, infrastructure, buildings, city furniture… and so on. This technology rebuilds these objects in 3D- using only the pictures and fancy algorithms- and also applies the images to the objects as a texture for an ultra-realistic look and feel. (You can try this technology yourself for free using the 123D Catch app by Autodesk)

Rebuilding the existing world in 3D using aerial photography may not offer the level of realism as the aforementioned composting, but it would allow you to build a virtual world and fly it and render it from an unlimited number of directions.

Regardless of how we use UAVs in the coming years, there is one thing that is for certain- we will use them and- if we let them- they will transform our industry.

sam civil fxSam Lytle, PE is the owner and founder of Civil FX, a visualization studio that focuses on transportation, construction and other civil engineering projects. He is a licensed civil engineer in the state of Nevada where he lives with his wife and three children.

Learn more at www.civilfx.com

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