Key Chinese drone-maker sees promise in newly regulated Japan market


Staff Writer

The outlook for Japan’s drone market is promising and a recently enacted law to regulate flights of unmanned aerial vehicles will result in a safer user environment, according to the Japan chief of China-based drone-maker DJI.

Allen Wu, who heads the Japan office of the world’s largest commercial drone-maker, said that as more people are expected to fly drones, it was critical that they learn to properly handle the devices and understand the risks.

“It’s dangerous to fly drones over areas crowded with people in the first place,” he said.

“Now is a good time to (set rules).”

The amended Civil Aeronautics Law, enacted by the Diet on Dec. 10, bans flights of drones weighing 200 grams or more over crowded residential areas, including in major cities and all 23 Tokyo wards, at altitudes of 150 meters or higher, and near airports.

Those who want to operate aerial vehicles in such areas need permission from the transport ministry.

As of Jan. 4, 231 individuals, companies and schools submitted requests for permission and more than half of them plan to use DJI’s products, the ministry confirmed.

Although DJI said it could not disclose sales figures, Wu said the firm’s global sales have been growing about threefold annually since 2011, and it has seen similar growth in the Japanese market.

Founded in 2006, DJI reportedly has an estimated 70 percent share of the global commercial drone market.

However, Wu said the drone gained more recognition among the public last year and he expected the market to further increase in 2016.

“There is no doubt that the Japanese market will continue to grow,” said Wu, a 35-year-old Chinese native.

He said the Japanese market, in particular, had many corporate customers who used drones for shooting aerial video footage, infrastructure surveillance and other tasks.

The firm’s Phantom line of drones, especially those priced between ¥100,000 to ¥300,000, were particularly popular, he said.

As for the new rules for aerial vehicles, Wu said DJI was just one maker and was in no position to comment on whether the new drone law will be effective.

But, asked if it would discourage people from buying and flying drones, he said, “Currently, we don’t think the new law will negatively affect the market.”

Just like cars, rules and infrastructure are needed for drones to be more widely used, he pointed out.

Now that the new rules were set, it was important that users had more knowledge and understood the risks of flying drones, Wu added.

To that effect, DJI’s drone education program, DJI Camp, has been launched for corporate customers, with the firm aiming to offer lessons to 10,000 people over the next three years.

“What we need to do now is to educate users,” said Wu.

He said the program not only taught people how to control drones, but also how to use them ethically and the risks involved.

For instance, strong winds or birds could pose a risk if they hit a drone.

Moreover, Wu said the maker offered insurance for users and had teamed up with Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group to provide coverage for those who purchase DJI’s drones.

The insurance policy covers up to ¥100 million for bodily injury liability and ¥50 million for property damage liability.

Although DJI is widely known as a drone-maker, it also makes its own video cameras to shoot footage from the air.

Wu said the firm’s strength was its technology, which enabled drones to fly stably and cameras to shoot steady video in the sky.

“If drones are just able to fly, they don’t really have much value,” said Wu, adding they must be stable platforms for shooting videos.

The firm also recently debuted Osmo, a spherical camera attached to a stick.

The camera doesn’t fly, but is equipped with three-axis stabilization technology to allow it to better record images — something that wa developed through shooting aerial video footage.

Wu said when the firm was launched, it made hand-held remotes used for radio-controlled helicopters to allow them to fly more stably.

It then started making multirotor copters, after which it started to receive feedback from users who wanted stable aerial video platforms.

Wu said this prompted the firm to work on both drones and image stabilization technologies.