Why the DJI/3DR Partnership Matters

Guy Cherni, CMO, Atlas Dynamics

This month, DJI and 3DR, once former competitors, announced that 3DR’s Site Scan drone data software platform will integrate with DJI’s drone platform. Yes, this story received its fair share of attention and examination, but the implications of this deal go beyond a simple partnership between two companies. Now that the dust of the deal has settled, we can analyze what it truly means for the drone market.

The drone market today is fragmented, with tens of software players developing similar platforms and many drone companies offering DIY solutions. This type of fragmentation indicates a young, not yet crystallized market. Solutions are not yet as complete as they can be, and companies, whether they specialize in hardware, software, or specific verticals, are trying to claim their share of the drone hype.

However, the DJI/3DR (and AutoDesk, which serves as the core of 3DR’s 3D mapping software) deal demonstrates that the winds are changing. Consolidation of the drone marketplace is beginning.

Consolidation Indicates Maturity

In any industry, consolidation is key. It demonstrates that a market is maturing; it helps provide consistency and quality in the technology being offered; it provides customers with peace of mind that vendors they select will stay in business to serve them for years to come; and ultimately it helps reduce prices.

Furthermore, consolidation of a market also supports innovation; ideas to improve the standard are given the financial backing needed to flourish. In the context of a consolidated market, smaller companies can innovate existing technologies, in the hope of being acquired by one of the major players, and then see their technology reach the market.

In the case of the professional drone market, instead of dozens of companies all developing similar 3D mapping software, a consolidated market would have one or two major players providing platform agnostic software (Maybe 3DR, maybe AutoDesk). Then, innovators could work to enhance the standard offering.  Following the DJI/3DR deal, any further innovation to take place in software will have to improve drastically the 3D mapping capabilities offered, and if start-ups can’t innovate, they will die.

The Software Race is Over, Let the Battle for Hardware Platforms Begin

Drone market fragmentation remains a major issue for hardware providers. Until we see hardware consolidation, the customers are the ones who will sacrifice. The few professional drone platform providers that do exist are racing towards firsts – the first to offer a solution to a specific vertical, the fastest, safest, farthest flying. In this race, drone companies are trying to stay relevant by cobbling together solutions. These patchwork solutions may have certain capabilities, but they are not scalable. The sobering reality is that there are only a few real, complete drone-based solutions being manufactured on a mass scale today – the rest take the insufficient DIY approach. As this market continues to mature, companies in the professional drone space cannot be creating DIY solutions. They must develop drone platforms that make sense from every perspective, rather than just trying to get their piece of the market however they can.

That’s why this software-partnership deal is so interesting. With the consolidation it brings to the software side of this market, drones have taken a major step forward. The time has now come for professional drone-platform providers to develop long-term solutions that will stand the test of time.

Creating Future-Proof Hardware Solutions

As a participant in the professional drone ecosystem, I understand the huge potential for development. We are standing at the edge of a “Blue Ocean,” or as phrased by 3DR’s CEO Chris Anderson, a “Blue Sky” of opportunity. As consolidation within the drone industry begins, drone platform companies need to focus on developing long-term, robust solutions for hardware as well.

Drones that will stand the test of time will not be cobbled together, but will have every single element designed with a 1+1=3 mentality. Creating a drone for professional use is not simply a matter of having something that flies and has a camera to record data. Rather, each piece must be chosen by design to serve not only its own function, but to enhance the total solution to be technologically advanced, reliable and accessible – the best of all worlds, in terms of durability, simplicity and price.  

Once a drone platform can offer all of this, we will see further consolidation on the hardware side of the drone business as well, through both acquisitions and technology partnerships. Through this standardization, clear leaders will emerge, and customers will be better served. This will open the gates for professional drones to become what they should be – an everyday tool for professionals.

Guy Cherni is a tech entrepreneur and a startup founder with experience in developing products and services that span North America, Asia and Africa. Guy is involved in social entrepreneurship, community development and technology startups, and currently serves as the CMO of Atlas Dynamics, a leading provider of drone-based solutions for the professional user.