South Korean drone companies

South Korean drone companies: the biggest, best names to know

If that massive drone show ringing in the Year of the Dragon is any indication (see below!), then the South Korean drone market is a rising star in the global drone industry.

South Korea boasts innovative manufacturers, service providers, and delivery startups. It’s home to the world’s first mass manufactured hydrogen fuel cell drone. And yes, it can claim title to some of the best drone light shows in the world.

The photo above is from a show that occurred in January 2024, hosted by the city of Busan. Ringing in the Year of the Dragon, the show signified the country’s commitment to emerging technology. And just as the Year of the Dragon symbolizes power, good fortune, and strength, so seems to be South Korea’s drone industry.

The South Korean drone market is also diverse. According to the latest Drone Industry Survey from Drone Industry Insights (DII), no industry segment takes up more than 20% of overall South Korea drone market shares. That said, the highest segment of South Korean drone companies are either hardware manufacturers (17%) building drones for others, or companies that work in consulting (17%). Drone software manufacturers come in third with a 14% share. Finally, companies that specialize in adapting drones for special tasks through engineering & integration (14%).

Drone industry insights south korean drone companies

But there’s two types of drone company you’re less likely to see in South Korea. Drone Service Providers proliferate in many other countries. But in South Korea, they represent only 10% of drone companies in South Korea, according to DII’s report. Similarly, training and education companies also represent 10%. That’s a sharp contrast to countries with the U.S., which are brimming with Part 107 test prep providers and educators putting on drone photo courses.

The following South Korean drone companies are categorized by primary business venture. From there, they’re listed in alphabetical order. Here’s a glimpse into some of the key players in the South Korean drone market:

There are certainly more Korean drone companies out there than the ones listed above. These names were simply selected because they are either 1. the biggest Korean drone companies, or 2. they come up in conversation often, or 3. they’re relatively unknown and should come up in conversation often. So with that, here’s a deeper dive into the Korean drone companies that you should know about:

The top South Korean drone manufacturers

Here are some South Korean drone companies to know, listed in alphabetical order.

Photo courtesy of Doosan

Doosan Mobility Innovation

Doosan builds the world’s first mass manufactured hydrogen fuel cell drone, called the DS30W. With it comes two hours of flight time, unlocking more industrial market applications.

For many drone makers, hydrogen fuel cells aren’t practical given their heavy weight. Doosan solves for this with an optimized airframe, where the propellers are located at the upper side of the main body to maximize thrust efficiency. DS30W’s octocopter shape was also structured to enhance power consumption and altitude control.

Doosan Mobility Innovation (DMI) is a 100% invested company by Doosan Corporation, which is a massive, global company.

Giant Drone C. Ltd.

Giant Drone does a little bit of everything. They’ll conduct drone mapping and surveying missions for you. They even put on drone light shows. But we’re grouping them in the drone manufacturer’s category because they do that too.

The company has a lineup of about a half-dozen drones. Its GD-D2 drone is designed for dropping objects. The GD-1430 is an agricultural and multi-purpose drone. The GD-X800 is best considered a racing drone, capable of reaching speeds as high as 150 kilometers per hour (that’s more than 90 miles per hour).

Hojung Solutions

Hojung is best know for its “Remo-M” drone, which is a fixed-wing drone designed for mapping use cases. Though, the company has also gotten into building delivery drones lately.

Hojun Solutions is one of 17 drone companies selected by The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Korea Institute of Aviation Safety Technology for the ‘2023 Drone Commercialization Support Project’.

PABLO AIR

Pablo Air is another one of those South Korean drone companies that seemingly does it all. Founded in 2018 as a drone hardware and software development company, it’s primarily known as a frontrunner in drone delivery solutions.

PABLO AIR successfully conducted a long-distance drone delivery from Seogwipo Port on Jeju Island to Cheonjin Port on Wudo Island.

For example, in 2019, Pablo Air became the first Korean company to successfully deliver a package over 57.5 km (that’a about 36 miles). The drones flew between Seogwipo Port on Jeju Island and Cheonjin Port on Wudo Island. It took just under two hours of flying time using Pablo Air’s drone.

That’s led Pablo Air to increase its focus on swarm drones. And in turn, Pablo has leaned into that tech to expand into other fields such as entertainment and education. These days, it’s also a leader in drone light shows. The light show arm is set for huge expansion, particularly in the Middle East. Pablo Air signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Saudi Arabia’s accelerator ‘NMOHUB’ for project procurement and the expansion of its fireworks business. Pablo Air also has secured partnerships with the Spanish fireworks specialist ‘IGUAL’, and Oman’s local events company ‘Albahiya Palace’.

Simulation screen of PABLO AIR’s UAM traffic management system ‘UrbanLinkX,’ winner of the CES 2024 Innovation Award.

Don’t overlook the company’s software, either. In late 2023, Pablo Air received the CES Innovation Award in the Smart City category for its Urban Air Mobility (UAM) traffic management platform, ‘UrbanLinkX’.

Pablo Air’s ‘FireBird 4’ (FB04).

Pablo Air also used CES 2024 to showcase its latest performance drone, ‘FireBird 4’ (FB04). FB04 will mark Pablo Air’s first mass-produced drone.

South Korean military drone companies

UCONSYSTEM Co. Ltd.

Founded in 2001, Uconsystem Co. Ltd developed what was the first Korean tactical UAV system. The Korean military still uses the company today.

Uconsystem supplied the UAVs for South Korea’s battalion class in 2008, marking the second localized UAV system for Korean Military. And it’s serving more than just the South Korea military. In 2004, Uconsystem exported ground control stations for the UAE Air Force.

And though we’ve listed it here as a military drone company given its origins, the company has since branched out. In 2008, Uconsystem entered into the civil UAV business when it began selling unmanned helicopters for agricultural crop dusting.

A pioneer in the field, UCONSYSTEM developed the first unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the Korean Armed Forces. Their expertise extends to civilian drones and agricultural spraying systems.

Photo courtesy of Nearthlab

South Korean drone service providers

While not exhaustive, this list highlights some other innovative companies to keep an eye on:

Nearthlab

Nearthlab is best known for its Nearthwind drone, which is designed for wind turbine inspections. Nearthwind leverages AI filming to independently spot defects and collect data while following a preprogrammed route.

Nearthlab offers a drone lease program, which allows customers to perform their own inspections in-house and on their own schedule. Though for customers who don’t want to mess around with operating drones and simply want the data, Nearthlab also offers to fly drones as a service. When you hire Nearthlab as a service provider, you specify the data you need and the company simply delivers inspection data to you.

The South Korean drone landscape in 2024

South Korean drone companies
Graphic by Drone Industry Insights

When it comes to Asian drone companies, China tends to dominant with big names like DJI. Japan is also a huge player, given its strong tech presence. Japanese camera maker Sony even makes its own drone now.

But rather than sitting in the shadows of those countries, South Korea has seized the opportunity for competition.

“This competition drives innovation to make South Korean companies stand out not only against their peers, but also against much larger Chinese and Japanese drone companies,” according to Drone Industry Insights, a drone analytics firm that recently put out a report on the South Korean drone market.

And beyond a heathy dose of competition, South Korea’s drone industry is flourishing due to several other factors, including:

  • Supportive regulations: The country boasts a relatively well-defined regulatory framework for drone usage, fostering a stable environment for innovation.
  • Technological prowess: South Korea’s strong foundation in engineering and technology positions it well for continued advancements in drone design and functionality.
  • Diverse applications: From aerial photography and inspections to delivery services and agricultural solutions, the applications for drones in South Korea are constantly expanding.

Then there’s the literal landscape of South Korea. Approximately 70% of the country is considered mountainous. And with plenty of forests, it means plenty of opportunity for drone delivery applications. And that’s not the only reason why drone delivery in particular could flourish. An aging population might simply make drone delivery more useful.

Plus, the country’s urbanization rate of 81.5% suggests that the areas outside of cities are not so densely populated. That creates space for drone delivery, but also applications like energy, agriculture and construction.

Challenges for South Korean drone companies

That all sounds good, but that’s not to say South Korea doesn’t face challenges. For starters, so many strong, mid-sized companies makes for a high level of competition.

More in line with challenges that pretty much all countries face? Both inflation and regulation. The former might ideally be temporary, while the latter will likely be a tough battle to win.

According to DII’s report, funding still poses a problem for many South Korea drone companies. Many drone companies in South Korea have cited that they find it difficult to acquire long-term contract funding.

That said, it does look like there are more opportunities for money to pour into the South Korean drone industry. In fact, one of South Korea’s biggest drone companies, PABLO AIR, is preparing for a prospective listing on the KOSDAQ stock exchange in the second half of 2024.

With continued government support, technological advancements and a growing number of innovative companies, South Korea is poised to be a major player in shaping the future of drone technology. To learn more about the South Korean drone market, check out DII’s report.

Leave a Reply