Drone powerhouse DJI looks to dominate thermal imaging market
Drone powerhouse DJI looks set to dominate another drone sector in the commercial market, thermal imaging.
Chinese drone manufacturer DJI on Thursday announced a collaboration with Flir Systems Inc. FLIR, -0.37% an Oregon-based sensor manufacturer that focuses on thermal imaging. The two companies are building their first joint product called the Zenmuse XT.
Thermal imaging for drones is particularly useful for search and rescue, fire-fighting and agricultural purposes. A thermal-camera-equipped drone flying over the forest that picks up on a hot spot could indicate a person on the ground. Thermal cameras flying over a burning building that show a cool spot could indicate a safer entry point for firefighters. And farmers use thermal imaging as they fly over fields to indicate dry spots or over-watering.
The Zenmuse XT will be released in the first quarter of 2016 and will allow users to collect aerial images while in complete darkness and measure temperature.
Drone users for years have been creating “hacks” to allow their drones to collect thermal images. The U.S. Coast Guard in 2010 used a traditional Flir thermal imaging camera on one of its drones and discovered that a fishing boat was actually smuggling drugs.
Flir this month launched the Vue Pro, a $1,999 version of its thermal-imaging camera with a mount that fits on a DJI Phantom drone. The Zenmuse XT is a step up because it integrates with the drone, meaning users can control the camera while in flight and wirelessly transmit live video, which could be a game-changer for real-time applications.
DJI has been on a tear. The company secured a $75 million investment in May that valued the company at $8 billion. Venture-capital firm Accel Partners said the investment was one of its largest ever. Estimates suggest that DJI, which makes the iconic, white Phantom drones that this year made it on shelves at Apple AAPL, +0.29% Stores, is on pace to do about $1 billion in annual sales.
A DJI spokesperson said that the company’s business is still skewed heavily in consumer photography. But with new products like the Zenmuse XT and the $7,999 X5 camera drone, which targets photographers looking for high-resolution imagery, the company is increasingly moving toward commercial drone applications. The strategy hinges on the fact that the market could rapidly grow once the Federal Aviation Announcement announces rules that legalize commercial drone use in 2016.
Flir’s third-quarter revenue was $381.9 million, up 2% compared with $375.4 million a year ago.