Two recent developments indicate that the drone industry may be entering its tween phase, that awkward, not-all-that-pleasant, inevitable period before it gains a solid, mature footing.
First was last week’s announcement of layoffs at 3D Robotics. Chris Anderson, the former Wired editor who co-founded the company with the now- departed Jordi Munoz, is continuing as CEO but turning over day-to-day management to 3D Robotics Chief Product Officer Jeevan Kalanithi.
The company is “pivoting” to focus on the enterprise. This after pivoting from being a DIY company to being a company targeting the high end consumer market. The question that begs asking is whether all these pivots are simply digging a hole. 3DR has received funding of ~$100 million. That’s a lot of money, and the recent layoffs will extend their financial runway, but for how long? A good summary of 3DR’s history can be found at Droneflyers.
This potential culling of the herd happened pretty quickly. It was only late last year that 3DR released its Solo drone to go head to head with the DJI Phantom. In the early days of computers, there were dozens of manufacturers. And it took years for them to be reduced to a powerful few. With drones, this appears to be happening much quicker pace.
3DR is not dead yet, but they have a tough row to hoe. As they pivot from one market (consumer drones) to another market (enterprise applications), they are going to find an equally crowded field.
The 800 lb gorilla out of China that knocked 3DR out of the consumer space is also a key player in the second development that took place last week. DJI is taking Yuneec, a drone manufacturer founded in Hong Kong, to court over patent infringement. Yuneec is a much more formidable competitor of DJI than 3DR; its line of Typhoon drones is clearly up to the task of competing with DJI’s Phantom series. Yuneec is about to release the Typhoon H, a highly anticipated drone that has a competitive feature set and, equally important, a competitive price compared to the recently released Phantom 4. Both feature a tracking capability, and that is one of the areas of infringement according to DJI. The other has to do with a mounting platform.
And so, like Apple and Samsung before them, these two are doing a legal pas de deux.
Our impression after reading the lawsuit is that it is more than a bit whiney, but tweens can be like that. They’ll get over it and, we hope, develop a healthy competitive relationship in which they push each other forward. And that serves consumers well.