Military drone manufacturer AeroViron-ment Inc. is charting a new course.
In an effort to snag a piece of the expanding commercial unmanned aerial vehicle market, the Monrovia company unveiled its Quantix drone on Nov. 15, which will be available for purchase this spring. According to the company, the mono-wing drone takes off vertically, flies horizontally, glides with little pilot guidance, and boasts sophisticated photo-analysis software. AeroVironment is betting that these features will make the product a must-have for agricultural, energy, and utility companies looking for an easy way to surveil infrastructure and property.
“This is the first drone we developed specifically for commercial customers,” said Steve Gitlin, the company’s vice president of strategy. “We think it could be an important growth driver for our business.”
There are a lot of drivers heading down that road now. AeroVironment will have to fend off several low-cost Chinese manufacturers already dominating the recreational drone market and starting to achieve lift off with commercial customers. In fact, about 43 percent of drones registered for commercial use with the Federal Aviation Administration are made by DJI of Shenzhen, China.
Michal Mazur, head of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’ Drone Powered Solutions division in Warsaw, Poland, said AeroVironment could face stiffer headwinds than its Chinese competitors as it tries to expand,
“It seems like recreational drone companies are more successful at entering the commercial drone market,” said Mazur, adding that customers are often wary of paying a premium for drone technology, preferring rather to gravitate toward cheaper products. DJI’s least expensive drone is priced around $500. While Gitlin would not disclose the exact pricing of the Quantix, he said it would cost at least $10,000.
Nonetheless, even grabbing a small chunk of the growing commercial market could represent an opportunity for AeroVironment. The emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at over $127 billion, according to a report released by PricewaterhouseCoopers in May.
“I think use of drones will completely reshape the operational model of companies,” said Mazur.
AeroVironment, founded in 1971 by aeronautical engineer Paul MacCready, built its business by selling unmanned surveillance aircraft to the military. The company also makes electric-car charging stations. It generated $264 million in revenue during fiscal year 2016. Of that, $234 million of that total, or 89 percent, came from selling drones, which are manufactured at its 85,000-square-foot plant in Simi Valley, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
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