The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a memo warning of the dangers of drones manufactured in China.
The report warns U.S. companies of the dangers of using drones manufactured or sold by companies operating “under the control or influence of a foreign authoritarian state” because the devices equipped with cameras and sensors “are capable of collecting and transmitting potentially revealing data about their operations and the persons and entities operating them.
The alert continues:
“The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access.”
“Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.”
Is DJI the next Huawei?
Only a week earlier US President Donald Trump issued an order effectively prohibiting US companies from doing business with the Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei. Huawei produces popular Android smartphones like the P20 lite.
The DHS alert does not represent a legal order, and DJI itself is not mentioned by name, however there is no doubt this is about DJI: The Chinese drone manufacturer has an estimated market share among consumer drones of more than 80% and its high-end camera drones like the mavic 2 series are considered to be best in its class.
Should the US government decide to go against Chinese UAS, this could have serious consequences for DJI. A possible scenario is a ban on the use of Chinese drones by state and semi-state units such as fire brigades, rescue services and local authorities, but also a general flight ban for all DJI drone pilots in flight zones and regions that the state considers worthy of protection .
The USA has already expressed national security concerns about drones manufactured in China in the past. In 2017, the US Army issued a ban on the use of DJI drones, claiming in a memo that the company shared critical infrastructure and law enforcement data with the Chinese government.
If the government were to take more direct action against DJI, the company would be hit hard. The winners could be the smaller European and American competitors of DJI, like French company Parrot or smaller special drone manufacturers from the US such as Impossible Aerospace.
The consequences for Yuneec, the second largest Chinese drone manufacturer, are probably unclear: The company produces in China, but its drone runs the Open-Source Software PX4, which has its roots in Switzerland.