In a period where interest in a DJI alternative is high, the SOTEN drone couldn’t have landed in the U.S. at a more opportune time. The DJI alternative comes from a Japanese drone maker called ACSL, which today rolled out details about its SOTEN drone as it has just landed in U.S. markets, including pricing and availability.
SOTEN is an industrial grade drone that uses a hot-swappable camera and robust encryption processes. Though it’s ideal for a wide range of missions, target areas include critical infrastructure projects. The Japanese version of the SOTEN drone launched in late 2021, but it’s only just now available in the U.S.
That’s largely due to big news from ACSL in spring 2023. Last May, ACSL opened a subsidiary in Silicon Valley, California. ACSL’s U.S. subsidiary is led by CEO Cynthia Huang, who has an impressive resume including Vice President of Enterprise Business Development at Auterion. Before that, she led DJI’s North American Enterprise segment as Director of Business Development.
And with the move into the U.S. plus the key hire of Huang, ACSL made clear its plans to disrupt the U.S. drone market.
That being said, the company laid low from America’s public eye for roughly its first year, aside from showing off the drone to potential clients to gauge interest. But that’s changed as of late. Things picked up over the past couple weeks, with murmurs of batches of SOTEN drones arriving in the U.S.
Now, it’s official. ACSL confirmed to The Drone Girl that the first batch of 50 drones arrived in the U.S. in late 2023. And as of this month, you can order one of your own. Prices start at less than $10,000, and they’ll ship as soon as orders are placed.
Here’s everything you need to know about ACSL’s SOTEN drone as it arrives in the U.S.:
ACSL’s SOTEN drone: cost, specs and more
The SOTEN drone is designed and manufactured in Japan, and it’s NDAA compliant.
With that, one of the critical features SOTEN is touting is its strict security standards. Among its security features is the option to encrypt collected photo and video data before it’s recorded to the on-board memory card. Meanwhile, communication between the drone and the controller is always encrypted. There’s also a proprietary controller.
Though fairly common now, the SOTEN features a swappable camera system, which is actually a technology that ASCL itself pioneered. That means the standard camera system can be hot-swapped with an EO/IR camera, multispectral camera, or an optical zoom camera. As far as the standard camera, expect 20-megapixel photographs and 4K video, captured via a 1-inch sensor and a mechanical shutter.
Here are some other key specs of the SOTEN drone (or check out the SOTEN spec sheet for more):
- Solid flight times: With an estimated 25-29 minute flight time, that’s longer than the Sony Airpeak’s promised 20 minutes assuming a standard payload.
- Weather resistance: The drone has a dustproof and waterproof ability equivalent to class IP43 (though ACSL advises against flying in rain or fog, nonetheless).
- Compact size: With the standard camera and battery, the SOTEN weighs 3.8lbs.
How much does ACSL’s SOTEN drone cost?
So how much does this SOTEN drone cost? ACSL announced today that the standard package of SOTEN drones will retail for just under $10,000.
When you purchase the standard package, you’ll get basically everything needed to get up and flying, including:
- The drone itself
- A standard camera (20MP 1” sensor with mechanical shutter)
- Remote controller
- Smart battery
- Required cables
The Standard Kit is $9,300. There’s also a Standard+ Kit which also comes with a hard case. The Standard+ Kit costs $9,599.
Or, you might opt for the pricier Inspection Kit, which gets you all of the above, plus:
- Three more batteries (4 total)
- Hard carrying case
- Spare propellers
- Triple battery charging system
The Inspection Kit goes for $10,779. The company said it has plans to roll out additional kits better tailored to specific use cases, such as an RTK kit designed for surveying and mapping applications. There are also plans for a public safety kit that will include an improved thermal sensor, set to drop later this year. The current sensor is 320, but ACSL is planning to integrate a 640 or better sensor by the end of the year.
Luckily, you won’t have to wait long to get your hands on a SOTEN drone either. ACSL says you can place orders through authorized retailers starting today. And, drones will ship out as soon as orders are placed. The dealers also are set to function as certified training and support experts.
Authorized SOTEN dealers include:
- Blue Skies
- General Pacific (GenPac Drones)
- Gresco UAS
- Precision Unmanned
A key feature of this drone is that it’s NDAA compliant. Government contracts will only allow pilots using NDAA-compliant drones, which makes demand for drones like SOTEN (and other’s, like Sony’s Airpeak drone) surprisingly high. Like SOTEN, Airpeak is made in Japan. Japanese camera maker Sony manufactures Airpeak.
While NDAA-compliant drones aren’t necessarily required to have been made in the U.S., it’s a key signal. The stamp means that the drones don’t contain parts that were produced by certain companies that the U.S. government deems unfit for use by federal agencies. Unsurprisingly, many companies on the U.S. government’s NDAA-prohibited list are made in China — including, yes, DJI. It all stems from fears that drones made from certain companies based in China and Russia are dangerous, particularly when it comes to how they handle customer data.
How SOTEN came to existence
ACSL, the company that builds SOTEN, has been around since 2013. ACSL is considered the largest Japanese drone maker in the country.
Most American drone players didn’t seriously start looking at the company though until spring 2023. That’s when ACSL created a subsidiary based in California called ACSL Inc. And the subsidiary comes at an opportune time for the company and customers, particularly as many drone makers lately have been prioritizing features like security, versatility and high-performance.
Since arriving in the U.S., it shopped its ideas around with key customers, such as U.S. utility company General Pacific, Inc.
“We’ve been out in the field with dozens of customers and partners, demoing and testing SOTEN extensively with the goal of truly understanding the needs of the market,” said Dr. Christopher Raabe, Global CTO of ACSL. “The response to SOTEN’s flight dynamics, security features, and overall capabilities has been excellent.”
It then made various improvements to its drone. That included reduced video latency, enhanced gimbal and camera controls, an improved user interface, and compliance with FAA remote ID requirements.
What’s next for SOTEN?
For now, there are just 50 drones up for grabs, but that won’t be the case for long. More SOTEN drones are coming. The company said it had plans for “hundreds of additional units to arrive in the coming months.”
ACSL also says it already has specific plans to improve its products throughout the company year.
“Other requests that have been prioritized into ACSL’s 2024 roadmap include an improved optical/thermal camera, smart controller upgrades, longer flight time, long range communications, cellular network connectivity, and an SDK for third-party software development,” according to a statement from ACSL.