DroneSense, Autel team up to build made in USA drones for first responders

As government agencies turn their focus to using drones made in the USA, Autel and DroneSense have partnered up to build drones for first responders.

Bothell, Wash.-based Autel Robotics and Austin, Texas-based DroneSense this month announced that they would team up to build a complete drone solution designed with public safety workers in mind. Autel provides the hardware, and DroneSense provides the hardware.

Autel rose to fame in 2016 with the launch of its X-Star drone, a quadcopter that largely resembled the DJI Phantom — save for a bright orange color and a few other minor differences. While most industry experts agreed that DJI produces a better overall product, Autel was largely welcomed industry-wide for providing some competition against what is otherwise DJI’s 70% market share. The company then mostly pivoted to focus on its newer Evo line, which is a series of foldable drones (following the trajectory of DJI’s foldable drone live, the Mavic series). And its $10,000+ Autel Evo II Dual, with a FLIR Boson 640 thermal sensor, 8K/48MP visual camera and 12 visual ensors for omnidirectional obstacle avoidance and no geofencing targets enterprise users.

DroneSense, meanwhile is a drone software platform with investment funding from thermal sensor maker FLIR. Its software provides drone pilots and incident commanders with the ability to gain complete situational awareness via live video streams and telemetry data from drones in the air, while also allowing them to collaborate with the systems of pilots and neighboring agencies. DroneSense also tracks data like flight logs, hardware, and personnel.

Together, the two American drone companies have integrated their products, meaning that now there’s easy support for using the DroneSense software platform on all Autel EVO Series drones.

It’s a win for first responders, considering the Autel EVO II Dual was specifically designed to aid public safety personnel in recognizing persons and objects in zero-light environments through smoke or fog with a 8K resolution RGB camera that has 4X lossless zoom capability, and up to a 40-minute flight time.

“We saw an increased interest from our public safety customers in the Autel EVO Series,” said Chris Eyhorn, CEO of DroneSense. “With our new integration, we are able to offer an advanced hardware option that will facilitate more successful UAS missions for our public safety customers.”

Besides being a new, potentially useful solution for first responders, the news is also interesting giving a recent (huge) uptick in demand for drones made in the USA.

Many government organizations have banned drones made in China, and some have banned all drones made outside the USA (more on what “made in the USA” actually means down below), largely following in the steps of a August 2017 U.S. Army memo that temporarily banned its teams from using DJI drones because of cyber-security concerns. And in 2019, the Department of the Interior said it would stop using any drones made in China or made with Chinese parts (they are using drones for uses cases wildlife conservation and monitoring infrastructure). The Trump administration also reportedly prepared an executive order to ban all federal departments and agencies from buying or using foreign-made drones, citing a risk to national security. 

And especially amongst public safety professionals, there’s been an increased call for drones made in the U.S.A.

Autel has offices in Shenzhen, but given its North American headquarters in Washington state, the company has been considered an American drone company by many standards. Technically the drone is “made in the USA” albeit with foreign and domestic parts and labor.

Thus far, most public safety professionals are still buying from DJI. In fact, a 2019 survey of first responders found that 55% of survey respondents said they already have plans to buy at least one drone in 2020 — from Chinese drone company DJI. But with new technology amongst American-made drones, the most popular drones for first responders might change next year.

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