America’s most promising drone startup just partnered with DJI

Back in 2015, California-based startup 3D Robotics seemed poised to compete for the top spot in the consumer drone market. It had a great reputation among the hobbyist community and a slick unit called the Solo. Unfortunately, the Solo’s performance and sales didn’t live up to expectations, and last year, 3D Robotics bowed out of the consumer drone game.

The company is now focused on enterprise software, specifically an offering called Site Scan that aims to help construction and engineering firms better manage their building sites and operations. Starting today, 3D Robotics’ mobile app will work with DJI drones. “At this point it’s pretty clear DJI offers the best hardware platform for both consumer and commercial. In economics this is the division of labor, the specialization,” said 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson. “No one company can do it all, especially given the rapid growth of the commercial sector, where it’s all about integration with specific tool kits.” Growth in the use of drones for construction has been impressive, and is forecast to continue growing.

The dream of an American-made drone competing for the top of the market isn’t totally dead. GoPro has said publicly that it’s committed to its Karma line, despite technical issues that forced a recall late last year. And the Solo drone is now back as an open-source platform that any hacker or entrepreneur can build on top of. Meanwhile, companies like the Drone Racing League are building record-setting hardware.

For now, DJI — with its vertical integration and relatively closed operating system — is dominating the market. But that may change as more consumers and companies become interested in owning a flying camera. “The history of these industries would suggest that the marketplace wants competition, and that there are advantages to both the more open and more closed approaches,” says Anderson. The Android of aerial robotics may come from an unexpected place.