By JACK NICAS and COLUM MURPHY
SHENZHEN, China—Big U.S. defense companies brought drones to the battlefield. Now a Chinese company is bringing them to the masses.
In just a few years, SZ DJI Technology Co. has become the world’s biggest consumer drone maker by revenue, selling thousands of its 2.8-pound, square-foot devices for about $1,000 each. In the process, it also has become the first Chinese brand to pioneer a major new global consumer-product category.
DJI’s four-propeller helicopters, called Phantoms, have become icons of the burgeoning drone era: hovering, camera-equipped robots that almost anyone can pilot. Phantoms have garnered fans for their aerial footage of extreme sports, fireworks and Niagara Falls, and famous users include the actor Jamie Foxx, Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak and homemaking entrepreneur Martha Stewart .
“The DJI Phantom series is like the Model T,” said Matt Waite, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who studies drone issues and owns three Phantoms. “Back in the day, you could talk about cars, but pretty much every car on the road was one of these Model Ts.”
DJI on Wednesday plans to unveil a new high-end drone, called the Inspire.