Professionals want to buy U.S.-made drones

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Buy American? Most public safety professionals want to buy drones that are made in the USA, but they’re not buying U.S.-made drones.

Most drones currently being used by American public safety officials were made in China by, no surprise, DJI. But if those public safety officials could buy an equivalent-quality drone from an American company, they would (or at least they say).

The Fall 2019 Public Safety UAS Survey by Droneresponders, a non-profit organization focusing on drones for public safety, presented 224 respondents with a scenario. They offered them four drones possessing nearly identical quality, capabilities, and price points. One drone was from a Chinese-headquartered company, one drone was from a French-headquartered company, one drone was from a German-headquartered company, and one drone was from a U.S.-headquartered company.

A whopping 88%, (196 of the 224 respondents) said they would purchase the drone from the U.S.-headquartered company.

Whether it’s a general ‘buy American‘ sentiment or whether it’s founded on concerns over some Chinese drone companies not securing data, people say they want their drones made in the USA.

made in the USA DJI drone
A DJI Phantom drone, made in China

But here’s the thing: most U.S. drone companies, particularly hardware companies, have largely failed, leaving businesses that use drones with few options. 3D Robotics was once a media darling, but burned through $100 million in funding before shutting down their manufacturing operations and pivoting to drones as a service. Another exceedingly well-funded company, Airware, started as a drone manufacturer before pivoting to software. Even that wasn’t enough, as its last legs were acquired for an undisclosed (but likely relatively small) sum of money by French company Delair.

“Even powerhouse technology company Intel attempted to compete against DJI, but could not find success in a market where DJI could flood the shelves with low-cost, good-quality drones that were relatively reliable and easy to use right out of the box,” according to a September 2019 Droneresponders white paper.

U.S. aerospace and defense stalwarts such as AeroVironment, Boeing, Lockheed Martin have tapped into drones, but their price point is too high for most enterprise drone operations.

“This would have likely meant increasing their cost of sales while simultaneously lowering their prices (and thus their margins) from their existing lucrative defense contracts in an attempt to pursue and accommodate the modest budgets of most public safety agencies,” the Droneresponders report stated. “That clearly wasn’t going to happen.”

According to the 2019 Fall Public Safety UAS Survey from Droneresponders, the drones used by public enforcement agencies are overwhelmingly made in China, with most made by DJI. 73% of public safety agencies that responded said they use a DJI Mavic drone. 47% of respondents reported using a DJI Matrice series, 46% the DJI Phantom series, and 37% the DJI Inspire series (respondents could answer multiple times if their departments had multiple drones).

And alas, 55% of survey respondents said they already have plans to buy at least one more drone in 2020…from Chinese drone company DJI.





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