Drone maker DJI the latest Chinese tech giant to get into the car game

Masha Borak
·3-min read

DJI, the world’s largest maker of drones for consumers, said on Monday that it will launch its first smart vehicle solution at next week’s Shanghai auto show.

Posting on social media, the Shenzhen-based company introduced DJI Auto, a new brand that will focus on the research and development, production and sales of intelligent driving systems and their core components.

Founded in 2006, the company turned drones from expensive and clunky flying machines into more sophisticated, but affordable, devices. DJI’s drones account for 70 to 80 per cent of the global market, according to research firm Drone Industry Insights. Much of the technology used in creating drones, including sensors such as LIDAR, are also key technologies for self-driving solutions.

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“DJI has been investing in LIDAR technology for cars and drones for years now, and they are likely to attempt to further expand into automotive components for electric vehicles,” said David Benowitz, head of research at DroneAnalyst and a former DJI executive.

Reuters reported in January that the drone maker has been building up its self-driving engineering team with the company posting jobs for engineers in the fields of autonomous driving, in-car software and auto electronics. DJI responded to the report by saying that it has been working on research that can be applied in the automotive field for many years.

Insiders told business media outlet Yicai on Monday that DJI will not make its own car. Instead, the consumer hardware maker will work on software and hardware solutions and a smart driving system to help automakers create smart cars, they said.

With its leap into autonomous vehicles, DJI is also following the path of other Chinese tech companies.

Huawei Technologies Co and Chinese carmaker Arcfox launched their first electric car with a full suite of autonomous-driving features last week. The Arcfox αS HBT is the first car to work with Huawei HI, an intelligent automotive solution that runs on the firm’s own Harmony OS and LIDAR chip, and has 5G connectivity, according to the company.

Smartphone maker Xiaomi announced its electric vehicle project in March with an initial investment of US$1.5 billion. Xiaomi’s first vehicle will be either a saloon or an SUV costing between 100,000 yuan and 300,000 yuan (US$15,300 to US$45,900), the consumer tech giant’s co-founder and CEO Lei Jun said last week.

Search engine giant Baidu, which has been working on self-driving technology under its Apollo project since 2017, said in January that it plans to make EVs using a plant owned by Geely Automobile Holdings.

Auto Shanghai 2021, officially known as the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, will be open to the public from April 21 to 28.

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