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DJI, the world’s biggest drone maker, is beefing up its management with the newly minted role of president as it moves into commercial applications for its unmanned aerial vehicles.
Roger Luo, previously vice-president of operations, has been elevated to president to focus on developing the business internationally in new uses for drones, which have to date largely been restricted to hobbyists and the military.
The move comes on the heels of the US Army’s decision to stop using DJI drones due to cyber security concerns. In a memo dated August 2 the department of the US Army directed staff to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow on direction”.
According to the US, DJI drones are the most widely used “non-program of record commercial off-the-shelf unmanned aircraft systems” employed by the US Army. DJI, noting the US Army did not explain the nature of the cyber vulnerabilities it identified, said it makes civilian drones “for peaceful purposes . . . not designed for military uses or constructed to military specifications”.
Frank Wang, DJI founder and chief executive, said Mr Luo’s elevation would help build the company’s nascent enterprise business. “The move will also enable us to gain a deeper understanding of our growing customer base and build stronger relationships with our dealers and partners,” he added.
Mr Wang will continue to oversee product development at the Shenzhen-based manufacturer, which has a workforce of 11,000 spread across China, the US and Europe.
DJI is the undisputed leader in the civilian drone world, with a global market share of about 70 per cent. The company, valued at $8bn-$10bn at its most recent funding round in 2015, has grown as rivals have faltered: in California, Lily Robotics shut up shop in January, while 3D Robotics switched its focus to software and Parrot, of France, axed jobs.
However, the move to diversify away from recreational use — a market seen as close to saturation by some observers — and into industrial applications takes DJI and its peers into uncharted waters.
In his new role Mr Luo, who has previously worked for tech and infrastructure manufacturers including Apple, Foxconn and Siemens, will target specific industrial uses such as agriculture, construction and insurance.
That will also mean dealing with software partners and data analytics — relatively new areas for a company that has traditionally focused on hardware.
“As we continue to expand our global footprint, we need to strengthen our management in the area of operations,” said Mr Wang.