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Autel Robotics challenges DJI with high-performance drones

Shenzhen-based company tops globe's dominant player by adding 8K camera

Autel's Evo II is the world's first foldable drone with an 8K camera. (Photo Courtesy of Autel Robotics)

BEIJING -- Although DJI dominates the global drone market, many rivals are working to develop standout products, looking for any chance to flex their muscles in niche markets.

One such company is Shenzhen-based Autel Robotics, which was established in 2014 and has branches in Seattle and Munich. In 2015, the company released the X-Star, its first drone, in overseas markets. In April 2020, it announced the foldable Evo II series in the Chinese market, and followed it up with the Dragon Fish and the Evo II RTK, which is capable of real-time kinematic positioning, in September.

In addition to the standard model, there are two others in the Evo II series: the Evo II Pro and the Evo II Dual 640T.

The Evo II and the Evo II Pro are priced at $1,617 and $1,942, excluding tax. They are respectively benchmarked to DJI's Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro, priced at $1,352 and $1,619.

The Evo II costs more, but there are many areas where it excels in performance. The Mavic 2 drones capture images in 4K, but the Evo II is the world's first foldable drone with an 8K camera. The Pro model supports 6K. They have higher obstacle-avoidance and automatic-tracking performance, and have a maximum flight time of 40 minutes, surpassing that of the Mavic 2.

The Evo II Dual 640T is equipped with a high-resolution infrared thermal camera that can capture images at a resolution of 640 by 512 and detect heat sources within a range of 2 to 15 meters.

The Dragon Fish series includes Lite, Standard and Pro models, all of which have rotors that can be angled. With aerodynamically designed bodies, they have a maximum flight time of 120 minutes and are capable of transmitting images over distances of up to 30 km. Options include a dual-sensor, triple-sensor or multispectral camera. The cameras can achieve 240-power magnification using combined optical and digital zoom.

Autel's drones are currently used for power facility inspections, forest fire prevention, traffic monitoring and police operations.

Li Hongjing, chairman of Autel Robotics, founded Autel Intelligent Technology, which manufactures automotive electronic components and diagnostic equipment for various functions, in 2004. The company's drone unit was spun off to become Autel Robotics.

Explaining why he decided to enter the drone industry, Li said he had a positive view of the potential of the market for robots with artificial intelligence. China's drone market is expected to grow to about 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) in five years, from the current 30 billion yuan. In addition, Li said, the experience he accumulated at Autel Intelligent Technology in the preceding decade gave him the confidence to compete with the world's major players.

Autel does not release specific data, but the company's revenue reached several hundred million yuan last year, according to Li. The company currently focuses on high-performance drones but plans to release low-cost products.

36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.

For the Japanese version of this story, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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