The major interest in drones started when the US began to use military drones, with the miniaturization of sensors and other technologies in the 1980s and 1990s. Drones demonstrated the possibility of cheaper, capable fighting machines, deployable without endangering aircrews. The first generations of drones primarily involved surveillance, but some carried armaments.
In the 1990s, the US Department of Defence (DoD) gave a contract to AAI Corporation along with Malat (Israel Aerospace Industry). The US Navy bought the AAI Pioneer UAV that AAI and Malat developed jointly. Many of these UAVs were in service during the 1991 Gulf War. As of 2012, the US Air Force (USAF) employed 7,494 UAVs – almost one-third of USAF aircraft.
In 2013, at least 50 countries used UAVs. US, China, Iran, Israel, and other countries designed and built their versions. Military spending is considered to be more than half of the entire market. But the military spending on drones may flatten, and the consumer market and the enterprise (commercial) market begin to grow even faster. Notably, the commercial sector holds the potential to expand dramatically.
As of February 2016, about 325,000 civilian drones were registered with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, it is estimated that more than a million have been sold in the United States alone. In this post, we will list out 10 top drone manufacturers globally.
1. 3D Robotics, US
3D Robotics is an American company headquartered in Berkeley, California, designing and manufacturing commercial and recreational unmanned aerial vehicles. Co-founded in 2009 by author and entrepreneur Chris Anderson and Mexican engineer Jordi Muñoz, who met online through the DIY drones’ community, originally started by Chris Anderson for aerial vehicle enthusiasts, the company produces consumer drones, ready-to-fly quadcopters for aerial photography and mapping, and fixed-wing UAVs based on the Ardupilot platform. 3D Robotics is one of the founding members of Dronecode.
2. AAI Corporation, US
An aerospace and defense development and manufacturing company located in Hunt Valley, Maryland, US, AAI Corporation was formerly a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Industrial Corporation and acquired by Textron in 2007.
It offers products and services, including unmanned aircraft, ground control technologies, simulation systems, automated aerospace test and armament systems for United States Department of Defence (DoD), contractors, and other federal agencies.
AAI is one of only a few companies working on designing and full-rate production of a successful fielded and operational unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for the Department of Defense. AAI first started working on the unmanned systems product line in 1985, when its Pioneer Remotely Piloted Vehicle won a competitive fly-off.
3. DJI, China
DJI is a Chinese technology company based in Shenzhen, Guangdong, founded in 2006 by Frank Wang. It makes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for aerial photography and videography for commercial and recreational use. It employs approximately 3300 people and generated $1 billion in revenue in 2015. DJI makes various products, including flying cameras (such as the Inspire and Phantom series), flying platforms, multi-rotor flight controllers, helicopter accessories, camera gimbals (both aerial and handheld), and ground stations. These items are suitable for industrial, professional, and amateur sectors.
According to The Economist in 2015, the company was at the forefront of the civilian-drone industry. DJI, the world´s biggest producer of consumer drones, is now trying to move away from the entertainment drone market and provide drones for more specialized applications. DJI provides development kits, which will allow software developers to write their applications for specific tasks.
4. Ehang UAV, China
Ehang UAVs are a series of UAVs developed by Chinese company Beijing Yi-Hang Creation Science & Technology Co., Ltd. and have entered service in China for aerial cinematography, photography, and survey missions. In a world-first, Ehang announced new drones capable of carrying passengers. One model was shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2016. It is a 200 kg personal flyer controlled by a smartphone.
5. General Atomics, US
General Atomics is a nuclear physics-focused defense contractor headquartered in San Diego, California. General Atomics’ research into nuclear fission and fusion has also influenced related technologies, allowing the company to branch out into new research and manufacturing areas. General Atomics creates systems ranging from nuclear power to remotely operated surveillance aircraft, airborne sensors, and advanced electric, electronic, wireless, and laser technologies. The Predator series of remotely piloted aircraft is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and used in conflicts in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
6. Israel Aerospace Industry (Malat), Israel
Israel Aerospace Industry (IA) is Israel’s prime aerospace and aviation manufacturer, producing aerial systems for military and civilian usage. It had 16,000 employees as of 2013. The government of Israel wholly owns IAI. IAI’s MALAT Division designs and manufactures Unmanned Aerial Systems. MALAT offers a family of systems that varies in size, sensors, and mission, mainly for defense-oriented customers, including multi-role tactical UAVs such as the HERON UAV. MALAT’s systems are in operational service with 50 end-users, deployed on five continents, and accumulated over 1,300,000 flight hours.
7. Northrop Grumman, US
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global aerospace and defense technology company based in the United States, formed by Northrop’s 1994 acquisition of Grumman. In 2015, the company was named the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor. Northrop Grumman has a global workforce of over 68,000 employees. In 2012, it brought in $25 billion in revenue. Northrop Grumman was ranked No. 72 on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations in 2011 and is one of the top ten military-friendly employers. Its headquarters are in Virginia’s West Falls Church. The RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned surveillance aircraft (UAV) used by the US Air force. The US Army uses Northrop Grumman’s RQ-5 Hunter unmanned air vehicle, which has been in operational use since 1995. The US Navy uses Northrop Grumman-built aerial vehicles like the BQM-74 Chukar RQ-4 Global Hawk based BAMS UAS.
8. Parrot, France
Parrot SA is a French wireless products manufacturer company based in Paris, France. Founded by Christine/M De Tourvel, Jean-Pierre Talvard, and Henri Seydoux in 1994, the company specializes in voice recognition and signal processing technologies for embedded products and flying robots (drones).
It develops products related to car telephony: Parrot chipsets (including DSP), copyrighted noise reduction and echo-canceling algorithms, Bluetooth software stack, and end-user applications (Bluetooth hands-free car kits). The Parrot AR was unveiled at CES Las Vegas in January 2010. Drone flying hardware is controlled via Wi-Fi with a smartphone and the ARdrone.org Open API game development platform.
Parrot purchased 57 percent of Swiss drone company senseFly and Swiss imaging firm Pix4D in 2012. Both companies are EPFL spin-offs. At CES Las Vegas in 2014, Parrot unveiled the “Rolling Spider” and “Jumping Sumo” Mini-Drones. Parrot announced the AR Drone 3.0, codenamed Bebop, at the annual AUVSI conference in Orlando in May 2014. Parrot also revealed that a Skycontroller is an option when purchasing the Bebop. The Bebop Drone can fly up to 2 kilometers thanks to the Skycontroller.
9. Yamaha Motor Co., Japan
Yamaha Motor Company Limited is a Japanese motorcycle, marine, and motorized product manufacturer, founded in 1955 after Yamaha was split up and headquartered in Iwata, Shizuoka, Japan. Yamaha is a major manufacturer of drones for agricultural applications. Other products include motorcycles, scooters, motorized bicycles, boats, sailboats, personal watercraft, swimming pools, utility boats, fishing boats, outboard motors, 4-wheel ATVs, recreational off-road vehicles, go-kart engines, golf carts, multi-purpose engines, electrical generators, water pumps, snowmobiles, small snow throwers, automobile engines, surface mounters, intelligent machinery, industrial-use unmanned helicopters, electrical power units for wheelchairs and helmets.