DJI looks to assemble drones in California as government concerns mount

With increased pressure on Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE, Shenzhen-based drone giant DJI has no doubt had cause for concern of late. In late-2017, the U.S. government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office raised concern that the company’s camera-equipped flying machines could be sending data back to China.

A few weeks back, the Department of Homeland Security similarly raised warning over commercial drones from China. In a hearing entitled “Drone Security: Enhancing Innovation and Mitigating Supply Chain Risks” last week, meanwhile, the National Defense University’s Harry Wingo told the Senate Transportation Subcommittee, “American geospatial information is flown to Chinese data centers at an unprecedented level. This literally gives a Chinese company a view from above of our nation.”

DJI fired back in a letter provided to TechCrunch, noting,

Because the drone industry is becoming an increasingly critical engine for small American businesses as well as the entire U.S. economy, it is essential that decisions affecting key components of the industry are based on fact. We are deeply concerned that, left unchecked, the unsubstantiated speculation and inaccurate information presented during your Subcommittee hearing will put the entire U.S. drone industry at risk, causing a ripple effect that will stunt economic growth and handcuff public servants who use DJI drones to protect the public and save lives.

The letter also breaks down some of the finer points of the discussion as follows,

  • DJI drones do not share flight logs, photos or videos unless the drone pilot deliberately chooses to do so. They do not automatically send flight data to China or anywhere else. They do not automatically transmit photos or videos over the internet. This data stays solely on the drone and on the pilot’s mobile device. DJI cannot share customer data it never receives.

  • DJI’s professional pilot app has a built-in setting to disconnect all internet connection, as an extra precaution for pilots performing sensitive flights. Unlike some technology companies, DJI does not sell or monetize customer data.

  • DJI embeds password and data encryption features in the design of our products. This provides customers with secure access to the drone and its onboard data. In cases when U.S. drone users do choose to share their data, it is only uploaded to U.S. cloud servers.

  • DJI operates a global Bug Bounty Program so the world’s security researchers can identify unforeseen security issues, and we hire independent security experts to test our products. These are just some of the steps we take to assure high-security users they can use our products with confidence.

With increased speculation, the company is looking to assemble some of its products stateside. A warehouse in Cerritos, California is set to be repurposed to build those drone models sold in the U.S., in order to better comply with government regulation. 

The company tells TechCrunch,

DJI is committed to investing in America and providing U.S. government workers, first responders, and public servants with customized solutions that meet their unique security, safety, and procurement needs. As part of our long-term commitment to America that began in 2015 with our research and development facility located in Palo Alto, we are opening a new production facility in California and filing for compliance under the U.S. Trade Agreements Act. This new investment will expand DJI’s footprint in the U.S. so we can better serve our customers, create U.S. jobs, and strengthen the U.S. drone economy. We look forward to working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in its review of our application.

DJI hopes that assembling products in California will help the company better comply with the Trade Agreements Act, a move that comes as preps the release of the DJI Government Edition, a repurposed Mavic Pro drone designed for use by government agencies.