A promotional photo of a family taking a selfie with the DJI Spark drone DJI

A Drone You Can Launch from the Palm of Your Hand

In an effort to appeal to the broader consumer market, China’s DJI unveils $499 drone that lifts off from your hand.

China’s SZ DJI Technology Co. unveiled a small camera drone starting at $499 that can take off and land from the palm of a hand, seeking to appeal to the broader consumer market.

The new Spark drone weighs 10.6 ounces, is equipped with a 1080-pixel video camera and can be controlled with a remote, a mobile device or using hand gestures alone, DJI said at an event in New York on Wednesday. The Shenzhen-based company will start shipping orders in mid-June.

DJI is the world’s leading maker of drones, but most of the gadgets in its existing lineup cost $1,000 or more and are used for surveying crops or industrial sites and in high-end filmmaking. The 11-year-old company is looking to expand its market to stay ahead as global revenue in the industry is projected to increase from more than $6 billion this year to $11.2 billion by 2020, according to researcher Gartner Inc.

Michael Perry, DJI’s head of strategic partnerships, said the Spark is meant to overcome barriers that consumers have to purchasing a drone, such as its price, ease of use and relevance to people’s daily lives.

“We want this drone to be people’s first experience with drones,” Perry said in an interview. “We’ve put a lot of intelligence in the system so that anybody can get it into the air and have a reliable experience.”

As the drone market becomes more mainstream, DJI is facing competition from cheaper rivals, especially in China, that have flooded the market with models from $10 mini toys to sub-$100 camera carriers. At the same time, DJI is aiming to take a big slice of sales of drones for enterprise uses, such as crop spraying, aerial mining surveys or pipeline inspection, a market that is estimated to reach $127 billion by 2020.

DJI also competes with GoPro Inc., which struggled recently with its own drone debut. GoPro’s compact, foldable Karma drone was recalled last fall shortly after it was released because of a power problem. It has since resumed sales and GoPro is also looking into ways to improve software to make editing and sharing footage easier for amateur adventure filmmakers.

DJI’s Mavic Pro drone was also released last fall in a similar price range but with more features, and was compared favorably against the Karma.

By Selina Wang

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