Drone technology developer DJI recently announced a $75 million investment deal with Accel, a global venture capital firm. The deal constitutes one of Accel’s largest single investments. Both companies have aligned their efforts in order to assist DJI with expanding into the UAV market. The investment funds will be dedicated to assisting DJI with current initiatives to promote the company’s products and services throughout the global agriculture technology industry while assisting DJI with expanding into new industrial applications.
Regarding the investment, Accel partner Sameer Gandhi said that “DJI is quickly establishing itself as the owners of the world’s most powerful robotic platforms.” According to Gandhi, “[t]he democratization of the skyways is well underway with affordable access to UAVs allowing people and companies to rethink what’s possible.”
UAV technology, also referred to as drone technology, is one of the fastest growing agriculture technology industries. Initially developed for military reconnaissance, drone applications have allowed farmers to increase their efficiency and improve crop yields. The increase in precision agriculture platforms has provided farmers with valuable real-time data about their crops and livestock. Farmers and ranchers can now run statistical reports regarding soil moisture content, ambient temperature, pest presence, and projected crop yield with the push of a button. UAV technology streamlines this process even further by eliminating steps from the data gathering and problem response process.
The funding comes on the heels of the FAA’s recent decision to authorize drones for crop dusting in California. Until now, drones have only been approved for limited applications, such as taking pictures of fields that assist farmers with identifying troubled areas in their fields. In landscapes that feature rolling hills, muddy roads, and mountainous terrain, a smooth-sailing remotely controlled drone provides a welcome solution for many famers and ranchers. On February 15, 2015, the FAA released proposed regulations that would authorize the regular use of specified drones with an eye toward accommodating future drone developments. In general, the proposed regulations contemplate authorizing drones weighing 55 pounds or less performing non-recreational tasks.
Founded by remote-controlled helicopter enthusiasts, DJI has developed a number of drone technologies, including the Phantom 3, Inspire 1, and Ronin-M. The company’s drones include several features, like real-time video, on-board cameras, high-performance batteries, an easy-to-use flight system, and a long-range aerial piloting platform with full telemetry data. For example, the Autopilot application for DJI’s Phantom device allows farmers to convert their drone device into a “smart drone” using their smartphone or tablet device. In this mode, the farmer can choose from several computer, human, and combined flight control modes, including a “Follow Me” feature.
Additionally, the Pix4Dmapper application enables farmers and ranchers to select specific areas for mapping, geo-tag images, transfer images to a computer or hard drive, and assist with the conversion of maps into 3D models. As these examples illustrate, UAV technology is a multifaceted enterprise consisting of both hardware and software components. This creates untold opportunities for innovation and growth, particularly considering the ever-changing landscape of agricultural production.
The UAV industry experienced several large-scale investments in 2014. Financings for drone technology startups reached an aggregate of $86 million. Some sources are estimating that drone technology could bring over $82 billion to the United State’s economy over the next ten years, with at least 92 percent of that amount being derived from the agriculture sector.
Regarding its company mission statement, DJI says that it “is dedicated to making aerial photography, filmmaking and data collection more reliable and accessible for creators and innovators around the world.” The company’s operations currently include North America, Asia, and Europe, with product sales reaching over 100 countries around the world. Both DVI and Accel intend to release official details about the investment deal throughout the coming weeks.
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