28 October 2016
Drone racing, also known as FPV (First-Person View) racing, is fast becoming a popular sport. Through special video goggles, players can see the speedway from the perspective of the drone they are flying. Photo: Internet
Drone racing, also known as FPV (First-Person View) racing, is fast becoming a popular sport. Through special video goggles, players can see the speedway from the perspective of the drone they are flying. Photo: Internet

IT expert envisions brave new world of drones

It all began as a hobby for Wisdom Chan, but soon, the excitement of flying a drone and the confidence that he too can create a one-of-a-kind model prompted him to turn it into a business.

Chan and his two partners founded Xdynamics in May with one goal—to make the best drone that is commercially viable.

A long-time information technology guy, Chan heads up the software team of the new company. His mission is to apply his IT knowhow to add brand new features to the product. Another partner looks after the hardware side while the other is the CEO who overseas operation, sales and marketing.

Chan cannot as yet reveal more about the prototype he is working on. But to show how software can make more powerful and useful drones, Chan cites the “follow me” function available on some existing models in the market.

By switching on a receiver in the pocket, a player can send a signal to the drone and order it to follow as it flies in the air, a perfect function for those who want to take a selfie video while traveling.

China-based DJI controls 70 percent of the global drone market. Parrot and 3D Robotics are some of the other big names in the field.

Drones are associated with taking selfies or, in the case of the US military, taking out enemies. But they are also used for practical purposes such as landscape surveying and pesticide spraying.

Also, US online retail giant Amazon and Chinese delivery service SF Express are reported to be experimenting with drones for delivering parcels and letters.

Xdynamics’ products will be targeted at the US market. They have a research and development team at the Hong Kong Science Park and a drone testing lab at the Nanshan Science and Technology Park in Shenzhen — China’s drone capital where 90 percent of mainland’s drone production is made.

Other than selling products, the company may also provide related services to those who don’t want to invest in their own drones but want to apply them to their businesses such as agriculture.

A drone can spray pesticides on several acres of farmland in an hour, substantially cutting labor cost. It can also collect large-scale aerial data on crops for farmers to precisely tend to their fields, like adding or reducing irrigation and pesticides.

Agricultural uses are predicted to account for 80 percent of the drone market in the future, Chan said.

Hundreds of new entrants squeeze into the drone market every year, mostly in Shenzhen. The majority of them sell low-end products.

Xdynamics has no interest in joining the price war. The company will only focus on the high-end segment that caters to people looking for professional-grade aerial photography and filming capability.

Business aside, Chan also wants to promote drone as a hobby and dispel public skepticism.

“Often, when we try to fly a drone for product testing or for fun, people around would start to get concerned. Nearby residents may call the police. Guards of housing estates may ask us to leave,” Chan said.

Some people feel their privacy is threatened because drones could take pictures without asking for permission, others worry about safety (e.g., drones losing control and crashing into homes), while some may even associate them with terrorist activities.

To allay public concern, Chan said, authorities could come up with guidelines to regulate the use of drones.

As for the safety issue, some mechanisms have been built into industrial-grade drones, including features like forced landing in case of power shortage or ability to sense the threat of collision and avoid it.

If the legal issue is resolved and a flying zone for drones clearly stipulated, drone technology will evolve rapidly.  Sci-fi scenes of busy drone traffic over our heads won’t be such a distant possibility.

“One day, we may be able to get a drone to pick up a Christmas gift and send it over to our friends and relatives,” Chan said.

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EJ Insight writer

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