Chinese drone manufacturers Walkera have made the move from racing drones to public services and enterprise solutions – but their deep engineering expertise is still at the core of the business. In China, Walkera claims the lead in the public services sector. DRONELIFE spoke with Webber For, Walkera’s VP of Marketing, about their hybrid drone solutions for long distance and heavy load applications in firefighting, police, and agriculture – and what Walkera does better than anyone else on the market.
DroneLife (DL): How big is Walkera as a company and what parts of the world do you have a presence?
Webber Fok (WF): “We have nearly 500 employees in China, including technicians, marketing staff, sales staff and customer service staff. We also have our own independent factory. Our business scope spreads all over the world: in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and more.
DL: What is the problem that Walkera is trying to solve?
WF: “Walkera has a long history in the field of drones, starting with racing drones and AP drones. In the last few years, we’ve transitioned to focusing on the enterprise market, and it has paid off for us. Now, we have two main product lines aimed at the enterprise market.
We saw a space in the market for multi-rotor drones that could fly longer and carry a larger load. Electric drones just can’t meet the need, so gas-electric hybrid drones seem to be a good solution. We took this path a little bit earlier than other manufacturers – now, after several iterations, we’re getting customer orders.
Our other main offering is the fire-fighting drone. We collaborated with the government to develop a solution that can really help firefighters – it’s much more user-friendly and really improves outcomes.”
DL: You use a hybrid solution for your airframes. Can you tell us a little about how this works and why you went this way?
WF: “Our hybrid solution mainly includes a gasoline engine generator with electronic injection and water cooling functions to provide continuous and powerful power for the drone. Since fuel has a much higher energy density than batteries, the key advantages of the hybrid solution are longer flight times and higher loads, which enables multi-rotor drones to be used for many more applications.
In addition, there are many difficulties when you use an electric drone in remote areas: like battery-charging issues or reduced function in low-temperatures. Those problems don’t occur with hybrid drones. In China, we have released hybrid plant protection drones, which are popular with farmers because they cost much less than electric drones.”
DL: Who uses your products?
WF: “Agriculture, police and fire are our primary markets.”
DL: Tell us how Walkera is different from other players in the firefighting space.
WF: “We were the first player to embed night vision scope, 30 x optical zoom camera in firefighting drones, which is very useful. We have recently launched a cluster fire-fighting solution, which includes different types of fire-fighting drones. The drone cluster can work synergistically and spray dry powder on the fire one by one. It’s a really exciting outcome from our latest research.”
“The most interesting application is that our drones can put out fire in tall buildings with windows. One of our product is equipped with a rocket launcher that can shot bullets to break windows and glass curtain walls.”
DL: That’s really interesting. What challenges do skyscrapers in particular pose for firefighters?
WF: “China is a fast-developing country, with hundreds of cities that have many skyscrapers, which makes the work of firefighters very difficult. The skyscrapers are so high that even the ladder trucks can hardly deal with them. Firefighters have to climb stairs with a heavy load – it takes time, which leads firefighters and trapped residents in danger.
Walkera is really innovating in firefighting drones which can slow down the fire diffusion before the firefighters arrive, and help them make correct decisions. This is where our value lies. There is strong demand not only in China, but also in many developed cities around the world.”