DJI commands more than 70% of the global drone market, and even though its technology has regularly been far and away better than the competition, its ties to China have put it in hot water with United States government agencies.
Growing concerns over privacy and the security of data gathered by DJI drone products have led to a series of bans over the last few years including the company’s addition to what is colloquially known as the “Economic Blacklist” in 2020 and a similar blacklist at the Department of Defense in 2022 that lists DJI as a “Chinese military company.” FCC officials have called for an outright ban of the company’s drones, citing national security risks.
The Chinese-based robotics company has repeatedly denied that it deserves to be on any of these lists.
“DJI does not fall under any categories set by the law to be included on the list. DJI is not a military company in China, the United States or anywhere else. DJI has never designed or manufactured military-grade equipment, and has never marketed or sold its products for military use in any country. Instead, we have always developed products to benefit society and save lives,” the company responded at the time.
Despite these pressures, DJI continues to be basically the de-facto drone brand for consumers in the United States, an issue that U.S.-based manufacturers say has made it all but impossible to compete against, at least head-to-head.
“China benefits from a manufacturing ecosystem that goes back many decades,” Adam Bry, co-founder and CEO of Skydio, tells CNBC.
“They’ve been building consumer electronics for many decades. Our cost structure is quite a bit higher than our peers coming from China, which is why we’ve chosen to compete on the basis of having a product that’s got kind of a different value proposition based on AI.”
DJI drones, which despite its inclusion in a few blacklists are only partially banned in the U.S. right now, are still used by U.S.-based police departments, firefighters, and researchers, but that could change if the government decides to shut the door tighter in response to the growing threat they pose. Drones have been a key weapon in the Ukraine war and, as Insider reports, are also being used by Hamas against Israel.
“Any attempts to ban DJI are really not just damaging DJI, but damaging the entire ecosystem around drones,” DJI’s head of global policy Adam Welsh tells CNBC.
“There’s a lot at stake here. We really hope that the politicians will look at the facts, actually look at the audit reports that have been done by U.S. government institutions, as well as private companies that show that our products are data secure.”
Image credits: DJI