The commercial drone industry is booming – and if your company is looking for made-in-the-usa hardware, we’ve compiled a list of 5 commercial drones made in the U.S. to start with.
By DRONELIFE Staff Writer Jim Magill
With all of the drama engendered by the U.S trade war with China and concerns over potential national security issues, many drone enthusiasts and commercial drone users are eager to buy drones that are manufactured by an American-owned company in the U.S.A.
However, finding 100% pure American drones can be more difficult than it would first seem. While some unmanned aerial systems are produced in the U.S. the company manufacturing them can be based elsewhere – Paris, France-based Parrot for example, or China as is the case of the parent company of Autel Robotics. And even if the final product is assembled in America, the drone itself can contain some parts produced elsewhere, including China.
With Chinese-owned company DJI maintaining its control of about three-quarters of the U.S. consumer drone market, the bad news for non-commercial drone users is that there are few American companies that are producing quality drones in the price range between $300 and $1,000 to compete with DJI’s products. The good news is that there are a handful of quality drones on the market, produced by companies that are either owned or headquartered in the U.S. that fall outside of either end of that range.
In addition, a number of U.S. based drone manufacturers are coming forward with quality high-end drones designed for the commercial user or governmental agency.
The following list, in no particular order, is composed of quality drones built in the U.S.:
When Silicon Valley-based Vantage Robotics, founded in 2013, introduced the Snap, the first drone to receive an FAA waiver for flight over people, the company had its eye on the prosumer market. But with the introduction of Vesper, Vantage has shifted its focus strictly to attract military, first responder and commercial drone users.
In 2018, in response to the U.S Department of Defense’s Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) program, Vantage developed the Vesper drone, the company’s CEO and cofounder Tobin Fisher said in an interview. Fisher said the decision to transition from consumer market to the military/industrial/commercial market began after the Snap was introduced.
“Snap was designed as a consumer drone, and then it turned out it was more applicable as a commercial drone,” he said. “It was really apparent that there were a lot of elements of Snap that really didn’t make sense for industrial and commercial and military customers.”
The Vesper was one of the five drones to be accepted for military use under the Blue sUAS project. Its civilian version sells for about $8,000.
“Vesper is better on every metric relative to Snap. It has significantly longer flight time. Snap is able to fly for 22 minutes. Vesper will fly close to an hour,” Fisher said.
Vesper also has a much more robust radio link than the Snap; it’s good for up to five kilometers and it’s AS256 encrypted for military customers. The Vesper also boasts a much more sophisticated camera system than its predecessor. It has 48x zoom, and has low-light capabilities for night operations.
“It basically has night vision, as well as a thermal camera and three-axis stabilization,” Fisher said.
With its camera configuration, the Vesper also can perform the photogrammetry tasks required in mapping and surveying applications, he said.
Paris-based Parrot, which manufactures consumer drones, such as the popular Parrot Anafi, has gone to great lengths to ensure that its latest product, the Anafi USA, designed for military and commercial use is seen is as an American product. Introduced last summer, the Anafi USA marketing targeted the security concerns surrounding the use of DJI products. Unlike all other Parrot products, which are designed in France and built in China, the Anafi USA is manufactured in Massachusetts. Parrot maintain stringent control over the supply chain for the Anafi USA, choosing trusted component manufacturers based on their country of origin.
In September, the Anafi USA was one of five drones selected in the Blue sUAS program for use by the U.S. Army. Inclusion in the Blue sUAS list gives the Anafi USA its stamp of approval for use by the Army, the broader Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal government agencies. With assembly conducted in a NEOTech facility near Boston, the Anafi USA qualifies as a “Made in USA” product (as well as for inclusion in this list).
Priced at around $7,000 the Anafi USA is about 10 times as expensive as the Anafi consumer model, placing it firmly in the enterprise category of drones. It is designed to “meet the demands of first responders, firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, security agencies, surveying and inspection professionals,” according to the Parrot website.
Emphasizing the security features Parrot says the “Anafi USA offers the same high-end security, durability and imaging capabilities as Parrot’s Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) drone designed for the U.S. Army.”
The Anafi USA’s gimbal and advanced optics are designed to meet the particular needs of firefighters and other first responders. “The 32x zoom is designed around two 21-megapixel cameras, allowing operators to see details clearly from up to 5 km (3.1 mi) away.” This system allows the drone to see details as small as 1 cm with precision from a distance of 50 meters.
Weighing in at just 1.1 pounds, the compact, foldable Anafi USA boasts a 32-minute flight time —best in class for a drone of its size. The drone’s standard package includes three battery packs, offering a total of 1.5 hours of flight time.
At just under $1,000, the Skydio 2 autonomous camera drone sits at the inflection point between being a consumer drone and an enterprise drone. With its headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Redwood City, Skydio produces an All-American product.
The Skydio 2 is designed for autonomous flight based on deep-learning algorithms, making it the ideal drone for sporting cinematography, allowing the drone to follow its operator riding a dirt bike or skiing down a slope, while the drone follows the action, all while detecting and avoiding obstacles such as tree branches in its path. Its three-axis gimbal supports a 12-megapixel camera, able to record 4K video at 60 frames per second for high-quality images.
Optional add-ons, which allow for a variety of commercial use applications include: Skydio 3D Scan™, a first-of-its-kind digital scan software for inspections of complex structures, such as bridges or transmission towers; and Skydio House Scan™, residential roof-top scanning software to enable fully autonomous capture of precision imagery by home insurance agents.
Like the Parrot Anafi USA, Skydio’s premier military-grade product, the Skydio X2D, was accepted as one of the five drones approved for Defense Department deployment under the Blue sUAS program.
Unveiled in March 2020 the RangePro X8P, also known as the Pixhawk, is a follow-up model to the company’s RangePro X8 released in 2019. Like its predecessor, the RangePro X8P is an enterprise drone capable of flying for more than 70 minutes with a standard sensor payload on a single battery. However, unlike its predecessor the Pixhawk is equipped with system components and options that meet federal government and (DoD) guidelines.
The UAV is “proudly engineered and manufactured in the USA,” according to the TerraView website. The company boasts that majority of key components in its drones — radios, payloads, gimbal — are sourced from U.S. companies or from other non-Chinese suppliers.
“We have been working with suppliers in the U.S. and other U.S. partner countries to provide best-in-class technical solutions and components that allow us to manufacture one of the highest-performing commercial drones in the market today,” said Bruce Myers, president of TerraView
The RangePro X8P employs the same airframe and military-grade technologies as the RangePro X8 “but now with a US made flight control system (FCS) and other non-Chinese system components and data capture options,” added Myers.
With its data-capture capabilities the Pixhawk is equipped to tackle a number of commercial and governmental applications that include: structural integrity surveys, terrain mapping and modeling, construction site planning and inspections of solar panels, pipelines, cell-phone towers and power lines.
Perhaps no drone company represents the conundrum of trying to determine what exactly defines an “American” drone better then Autel Robotics. Based in Bothell, Washington, but owned by China-based Autel Intelligent Technology, the company in September announced that it was releasing its “Autel EVO II Dual Enterprise UAS bundle/package,” offering its customers an “aircraft manufactured in the USA with foreign and domestic parts and labor.”
With a list price of just under $1,500, Autel is marketing the Autel EVO II Dual as an enterprise drone, “designed to aid public safety personnel in identifying persons and objects in the dark, through smoke/fog,” The drone features “the highest resolution IR camera available,” along with a second, separately functioning 8K resolution RGB camera.
Billed as the world’s first foldable 8k drone, the EVO II’s 8K camera provides deep-detail, zoom capability and the ability to stream video to any command location. It captures images with 16 times more pixels as HD cameras and four times as many pixels an 4k cameras.
Despite its compact size (it weighs 2.5 pounds), the drone sports a bright orange color that makes it easy to track in the sky or see on the ground. It comes equipped with omnidirectional obstacle detection, including 12 visual sensors and two ultrasonic sensors on the bottom of the drone.
Autel is marketing the EVO II Dual package to appeal to government agencies and other operators leery of buying a Chinese-made drone that could raise potential security concerns. With an airframe from China, IR/thermal cameras from FLIR in the U.S., and Sony imagers from Japan, the final product is assembled in Autel’s manufacturing facility in Bothell, Washington, the company said.
In addition, the drone may be flown without connecting to the Internet through a mobile device, as the remote control offers a 3.3-inch display for FPV. “When connected to a mobile device for preview and autonomous flight modes, the mobile device may be put into airplane/no-data mode once local maps have been downloaded for mission planning,” Autel said.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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