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GoPro Drone Effort Boosted By Data, But Leader DJI Says It’s Tougher Than It Looks

BY Alan Perlman
22 July 2015

Source: MarketWatch
By: Sally French

GoPro plans to enter the drone market in the first half of 2016

GO Pro Drone

A drone prototype equipped with a GoPro camera is tested at the headquarters of Squadrone System in Saint-Martin d’Hères, France.

GoPro Inc. is set to launch a quadcopter drone in the first half of 2016, and FAA data shows the action-camera company could be a behemoth that challenges current drone makers for market dominance.

GoPro’s GPRO, +0.95% drone is entering the consumer-level drone market to some competition, primarily from Chinese drone maker Dajiang Innovation Technology along with smaller competitors including 3D Robotics, Inc. and Parrot SA PARRO, +0.00%

Currently, 42.9% of U.S. drones that have been granted a Section 333 Exemption by the Federal Aviation Administration — allowing drone pilots to operate commercially — are manufactured by DJI. AeroVironment AVAV, +1.30% comes in second place with a 9.1% share of the total registered drones, trailed by 3D Robotics and PrecisionHawk, according to a Drone Analyst report. Goldman Sachs analysts also say DJI is the leading manufacturer of drones being used for commercial purposes, with an estimated 70% market share in 2014.

Goldman research

In other words, there’s really only one major consumer-based drone company that GoPro needs to compete with in a growing market for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Goldman Sachs estimates the drone market is worth $1.4 billion in 2015, but forecasts it to more than triple by 2017, based on the assumption that GoPro may produce wider appeal for consumer drones.

Registered Aircraft

“Privately operated UAVs are a big opportunity,”
“We believe the recent spike in adoption is attributable to the jaw-dropping video content generated by consumers.”

– GoPro spokesman Jeff Brown said.

But DJI says creating a drone, is a more difficult task than making a camera.

“Generally, creating a new drone is much harder than creating a new phone or camera,”
“The levels of quality control and testing involved are significantly harder for teams with smaller R&D teams.”

– DJI spokesman Michael Perry said.

“DJI has maintained our lead in the market due to our world-leading flight controller technology based on millions of flight hours, which is hard for newcomers to replicate,”

– Perry said.

Still, with GoPro’s dominance in the action camera market, analysts say GoPro’s customer base is a natural fit with the drone industry.

“We believe this expansion makes strategic sense, as consumer drones typically carry cameras (most often GoPro’s) to capture aerial footage, and their users have a large overlap with GoPro’s customer base,”

– according to a July report from Goldman Sachs.

That aerial footage includes weddings, sports, family activities.

“Almost anything that people do outside,”

– Brown said.

And that’s exactly what people already intend to use drones for, FAA data show. The FAA has granted nearly two times as many commercial drones exemptions for photo and video drone use than any other market, with inspection and monitoring trailing as the second largest use of drones.

Operation & Mission

“Drone regulation was among many issues the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) lobbied on in 2012 and 2013, at a total cost of $4.11 million,”
“A drone costing just a few thousand dollars can deliver high wow-factor shots that were impossible to get before, or could only be captured using expensive cranes, stabilizing equipment, and a manned helicopter.”

according to a Drone Analysts report.

Footage from a drone has been used in “The Hunger Games,” “Skyfall” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”

GoPro and DJI are together making sure policy is on their side. Last year, GoPro, they joined with Amazon AMZN, +2.48%  , Google GOOG, +2.29%  , Facebook FB, +0.80% and others to found Washington-based policy group The Small UAV Coalition.

“GoPro’s policy focus is on protecting the rights of recreational fliers, and keeping consumers informed of policy decisions by state and federal government,”

– Brown said.

Perhaps ironically, GoPro’s competitors have been using GoPro cameras on their own drones. DJI initially relied on the GoPro in its original “Phantom” line, supplying customers with a mount for their GoPro on the drone. While DJI recently transitioned to making its own drone cameras, 3D Robotics continues to partner with GoPro as a supplier of cameras for its drones.

“Management indicated its relationship with 3D Robotics is good and it will continue to supply cameras to other drone-makers,”
“However, it remains to be seen how the other drone-makers will respond to GoPro’s entry into drone market.”

– Goldman Sachs wrote of GoPro.

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