Drone maker DJI creates first agricultural device

The Chinese drone maker is using new capital to move into sophisticated agricultural drone technology, and plans to open a new research facility in Silicon Valley.

Chinese drone-maker DJI has produced its first crop-dusting agricultural drone.

A global leader in commercial drone sales with its headquarters in Shenzhen, DJI say the Agras MG-1 uses microwave radar and a sophisticated flight-control system to “ensure centimetre-level accuracy” of crop spraying at 40 times the efficiency of manual spraying.

The venture capital-backed company, which brought in $500 million of revenue last year through its filming and commercial drone sales, successfully raised $75 million from Palo Alto-based Accel Partners in May. Agri Investor reported at the time that DJI wanted to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to promote its products across the global agtech industry while expanding into new industrial applications.

Accel Partners valued the company at $8 billion, while other potential investors have suggested valuations of up to $10 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

DJI’s diversification into crop spraying means the company will have to impress agriculturalists with the drone’s durability and technological sophistication. The company’s global success has mostly been dependent on lower-end commercial drone sales that do not need to meet the standards of industrialists.

With 1,500 staff at its research and development team in Shenzhen, the firm is building a smaller high tech research facility in Silicon Valley, headed by Apple’s former head of antenna design Rob Schlub. Darren Liccardo, who previously ran Tesla’s autopilot project, is vice-president of engineering, systems and application development.

DJI also said that the 10-litre capacity drone is designed to withstand natural elements like dust and water, and is fitted with a centrifugal cooling system for longer motor life. The drone is even supposed to return the last place in the field it left off at when it flies away to refuel or be recharged after a maximum of 12 to 14 minutes flight time.

The company says Agras MG-1 will be rolled out worldwide after first going on sale in mainland China, where the company is set to open a new 800 square foot shopping centre next month.