If passed, the American Drone Security Act would mean that all of the federal entities which use Chinese made drones like the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior would have 180 days to cease using and purchasing them. In other words, police forces, fire departments, traffic controllers and many others would lose their drone fleets and have to either find other vendors or give up using drones. In late September, DJI launched a disaster relief program for US first responders. This programme would give selected partners access to DJI hardware and software during and after major disasters. If the American Drone Security Act goes forward, then such a program would have to be scrapped.
There are approximately 600 DJI drones being employed by the DoJ at the moment. This is insignificant compared to the hundreds of thousands of DJI drones being used for private and commercial purposes in the United States. For that reason, the American Drone Security Act is unlikely to have a direct impact on DJI’s commercial prominence in both the world and the US. In the past few years they have focused their attention from the hobbyist market to the growing commercial drone market as it is more promising for them in the long run.
However, the ban on the public use of DJI drones could be a steppingstone towards commercial restrictions as well. Regardless, the United States government definitely won’t be making life easy for DJI as they ramp up import taxes on goods manufactured in China. So far, DJI has been passing on the brunt of these increased taxes by increasing the prices of their products.
Moreover, the allegations over DJI accessing and abusing user data may affect their reputation on the commercial drone market. For that reason, the claims that they could be storing and illegally using the data acquired by their platforms abroad are being taken very seriously by the company. They’ve responded stating that these are baseless accusations and assuring their users that they are in no circumstance taking or using their data.
While DJI sales won’t necessarily be directly hurt if the new law is passed, the US Interior and Justice departments would be left looking for other platforms. The current market shares of drone manufacturers in the US do not reveal many alternatives.
Both Yuneec and Autel Robotics are Chinese-owned manufacturers who are likely going to be affected by the law as well, and regardless of that do not manufacture more general platforms like the ones used by the DoI and the DoJ. Although Intel does rank high in terms of market share, this is largely due to the high number of their Shooting Star platforms, which are only used for drone shows and not actually sold externally.
Meanwhile, other prominent companies on the Top 10 list include manufacturers like GoPro and 3DR who no longer produce hardware, and hobbyist manufacturers like Holy Stone whose platforms are not suitable replacements for these use cases. Moreover, as many have already noted, it will be difficult for the public sector with its budget limitations to replace DJI drones at the same or even competing price point. Currently it seems like European and American companies are poised to take up the helm, most specifically Parrot. Their Anafi drone appears to already be part of the DoI’s ‘UAS Fleet’ which means that they are a likely candidate for the replacements for the 600 DJI drones that would be removed from operations.
It is still unclear if the proposed act will actually pass. It currently has backing from both the Democratic and Republican Parties, meaning that it stands a good chance of being signed into law. However, DJI and their partners are working hard to make it clear that this would not be a wise step and that they can and should continue to support public bodies in the US.
Not only did they announce the new First Responders programme at their annual conference, Airworks, but they’ve also just released two new drones specifically built for applications in the agriculture industry. With these releases, and with their strong strategic partnerships in the US and across the globe, DJI is sending a clear message to the United States government: regardless of the proposed law which would ban the public use of their products, they are and will continue to be a driving force in the development of the commercial drone market.