Parrot has some big plans for June 30: It will be releasing a new product. But in announcing plans for that release, the company has taken direct aim at one of its competitors — and in a somewhat controversial manner.

Big companies in the drone world — as in any sector — like to make a big splash when they’re going to announce a new product.

There are often advance teasers or graphics that might hint at some of the features of the impending product, perhaps even a video. DJI has long excelled at these sorts of campaigns that tend to hint strongly at the value proposition of the new device without revealing any secrets. The goal is to create a buzz and get people talking.

Some of Parrot’s pre-launch publicity has also been successful in getting people talking. But not, perhaps, in precisely the way it hoped. That’s because some of its pre-launch material has a decidedly controversial feel:

Parrot takes aim at China with this promotion

In case there was any doubt, the company also released a second graphic that put the industry leader directly in its sights:

 

DO YOU TRUST DJI DRONES?it asks, before recommending that you save June 30 “to meet the drone you can trust.”

Implicit in both these statements is the message that we shouldn’t trust Chinese drones in general, and DJI drones in particular. Plus, evidently, we can trust Parrot products — or at least the allegedly trustworthy drone it will release on June 30.

Why the China bashing? Well, there’s no doubt that the Trump administration has raised concerns about Chinese products. Specifically, it has made allegations that some products might actually be put to work for the purposes of espionage. Telecommunications giant Huawei has been caught up in this controversy, and so too has DJI.

The allegation is that made-in-China DJI products could be capable of conveying all flight data — including high-resolution imagery — back to DJI, and presumably, Chinese authorities. So if there were flights over sensitive installations, etc., all of that info might end up in unwanted hands. The Trump administration’s concerns have become so great that the US Department of the Interior banned drone flights earlier this year by any Chinese-made UAV or any drone carrying Chinese-made components.

These broad-brush assumptions don’t take into account the fact that users can easily opt not to share any data with DJI. What’s more, any drone data from users outside of mainland China is not sent back to Shenzhen. Instead, it lives on a secure Amazon AWS server situated in the United States.

DJI has also taken additional steps to assuage concerns. It announced — exactly one year ago — the “DJI Government Edition” package, which uses a special version of the company’s Pilot software, as well as unique firmware for the remote control and drone, to keep all data offline. In fact, it’s impossible to sync this data with DJI’s servers, even if the user wanted to do so. (It’s also impossible to bind non-Government Edition hardware with off-the-shelf DJI products.)

What’s more, argues DJI, is that the company doesn’t try to sell to the military and has never marketed its products as being suitable for that purpose.

“It’s important to draw one clear distinction,” explains Michael Oldenburg, DJI’s senior manager for corporate communications and public affairs in North America.

“There’s drones for the Department of Defense and then there’s drones for everything else in the commercial/industrial sector. And largely, we have always said from the get-go we don’t create them to be military spec or compliant with DoD standards. That’s not a market that we’re trying to serve.”

DJI has even developed publicity with experts to dispel the doubt. We were invited to the roundtable below:

Unfortunately, once a theory like this is out there, it can tend to damage a company’s reputation. In fact, some suggest the real impetus for the US concern over DJI is trade protectionism. DJI is the undisputed market leader, selling the vast majority of consumer and enterprise-quality drones used by industry and first responders. Raising concerns over how secure these products are — and even mandating that certain sensitive federal agencies purchase US-made products — is a potential way for a government concerned with trade to try to even the playing field.

But were those early Parrot ads fair game?

“I feel it’s obviously a very interesting choice of words on their part,” says Oldenburg. “We’re eager to see what gets announced.” 

As for Parrot? In its latest ad, released on Twitter June 23, the message is there but no longer quite as pointed.

 

We look forward to covering Parrot’s event next week and will have all the details the moment the embargo is lifted.

Photo: Tim Martin 

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