According to customs data released by state media outlet Xinhua, drone exports from Shenzhen – China’s hardware hub, amounted to $2.7 billion yuan ($412 million USD) between January and November 2015, an increase of 9.2 times over the same period in 2014.
Global commercial drone investment boomed in 2015, with a majority aimed at Chinese companies, including Shenzhen-based DJI, who wrapped up $75 million USD in May at valuation upwards of $8 billion USD.
Commercial drone makers have become the positive archetype of modern consumer hardware for China. Makers, such as DJI, have embraced global marketing strategies to eschew the copycat reputation often attached to Chinese brands. DJI is now the undisputed global brand leader in commercial drones.
Other notable Chinese drone brands that found funding 2015 include Yuneec, who secured $60 million from Intel in August. The company’s flagship Typhoon Q500 sought to compete with top names this year using 4k cameras and movement-tracking features.
Shenzhen-based EHang also locked down new funding in August, raising $42 million USD led by GP Capital. EHang wowed audiences at last week’s CES held in Vegas by unveiling an autonomous passenger drone capable of carrying a single passenger of up to 130kg. The vehicle has currently performed over 100 test flights, according to the company.
While investment in Chinese drone companies continues to grow, niggling regulatory concerns have overshadowed the industry. In August the government sought to cap exports of high-tech products linked to national security, including drones that can fly for over an hour or have advanced wind stabilization technology. Most commercial drones have a shorter flight time meaning they are currently unaffected by the regulations. The new rules do put limits on developing extended capabilities however.