Here’s an Updated List of U.S. “Blue” Drone Manufacturers
Although the following list is not comprehensive it does provide a selection that will need to be updated as new companies grow in the U.S. market. The following drone manufacturers list includes: Vantage Robotics, Parrot ANAFI, Skydio 2, RangePro X8P, and Autel EVO II, Censys, Inspired Flight, Skyfish, and Hitec’s Commercial Solutions: Xeno FX and Endurance.
Vantage Robotics Vesper
Vantage Robotics, which was founded in 2013, introduced the Snap, the first drone that received an FAA waiver for flight over people. Although the company had focused on the consumer market, it shifted its focus to attract military, first responder and commercial drone users with its introduction of the Vesper drone in 2018. This was in response to the U.S Department of Defense’s Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) program, which began after the Snap was introduced.
Although Snap was designed as a consumer drone, it turned out to be more applicable as a commercial drone.
The Vesper was one of only five drones that were accepted for military use under the Blue sUAS project. As Tobin Fisher, the CEO and cofounder of Vantage, pointed out, “Vesper is better on every metric relative to Snap. It has significantly longer flight time. Snap is able to fly for 22 minutes. Vespers will fly close to an hour.”*
In addition, Vesper also has a significantly more robust radio link than the Snap, and also has a much more sophisticated camera system than its predecessor. It has 48x zoom, and has low-light capabilities for night operations. According to Fisher, “It basically has night vision, as well as a thermal camera and three-axis stabilization.”* The Vesper’s camera can also perform the photogrammetry tasks required in mapping and surveying applications.
Parrot Anafi USA
The Paris-based Parrot, which manufactures consumer drones, has focused great attention to ensure that the Anafi USA, its latest drone, is designed for military and commercial use. The marketing of the Anafi USA is targeted at the security concerns surrounding the use of DJI products. Unlike all other Parrot products, which are designed in France and built in China, the Anafi USA is manufactured in Massachusetts. Parrot maintains stringent control over the supply chain for the Anafi USA, choosing trusted component manufacturers based on their country of origin.
In September, the Anafi USA was one of five drones selected in the Blue sUAS program for use by the U.S. Army, which gives the Anafi USA its stamp of approval for use by the Army, the broader Department of Defense (DOD), as well as other federal government agencies. Because it is assembled in a NEOTech facility near Boston, the Anafi USA is considered as a “Made in USA” product.
The Anafi costs around $7,000, which is about 10 times more expensive than the Anafi consumer model and places it in the “enterprise category” of drones. And according to the Parrot website, it is designed to “meet the demands of first responders, firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, security agencies, surveying and inspection professionals.”*
Parrot claims that “Anafi USA offers the same high-end security, durability and imaging capabilities as Parrot’s Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) drone designed for the U.S. Army.”*
The Anafi USA’s gimbal and advanced optics are designed to meet the specific needs of firefighters and other first responders: “The 32x zoom is designed around two 21-megapixel cameras, allowing operators to see details clearly from up to 5 km (3.1 mi) away.”* In fact, this system makes it possible for the drone to see details as small as 1 cm with precision from a distance of up to 55 yards.
The compact, foldable Anafi USA weighs a mere 1.1 pounds with a 32-minute flight time, which is the best in class for a drone its size. With a standard package that includes three battery packs, it offers a total of 1.5 hours of flight time.
The Skydio 2 autonomous camera drone that sells for a mere $1,000 finds itself being both a consumer drone and an enterprise drone. Its headquarters and manufacturing facilities are in Redwood City and thereby produces an All-American product.
Based on deep-learning algorithms, the Skydio 2 is designed for autonomous flight and, therefore, is the ideal drone for sporting cinematography. It can follow its operator riding a dirt bike or skiing down a slope, while at the same time it can follow the action as it detects and avoids obstacles, such as tree branches, etc. in its path.
Skydio 2’s three-axis gimbal supports a 12-megapixel camera and is able to record 4K video at 60 frames per second for high-quality images.
The following optional add-ons provide a variety of commercial use: Skydio 3D Scan™, is a first-of-its-kind digital scan software for inspections of complex structures, such as bridges or transmission towers. The Skydio House Scan™ is used with residential roof-top scanning software and makes it possible to capture precision imagery by home insurance agents.
Skydio’s X2D — the premier military-grade product — was accepted as one of the five drones approved for Defense Department deployment under the Blue sUAS program.
The RangePro X8P, like the Skydio2, was produced by Valencia’s TerraView, an American-made product in California and was designed for the industrial, first responder, and governmental agency markets.
The RangePro X8P — also known as the Pixhawk — is a follow-up model to the company’s RangePro X8, which was released in 2019. The RangePro X8P is an enterprise drone capable of flying for more than 70 minutes with a standard payload on a single battery and is equipped with components and options that meet federal government and (DoD) guidelines.
According to the TerraView website, the UAV is “proudly engineered and manufactured in the USA.” And the company proudly claims that the majority of key components in its drones, such as radios, payloads, and gimbal, come from U.S. companies or from other non-Chinese suppliers.
Bruce Myers, president of TerraView, points out:
“We have been working with suppliers in the U.S. and other U.S. partner countries to provide best-in-class technical solutions and components that allow us to manufacture one of the highest-performing commercial drones in the market today.”*
The RangePro X8P utilizes the same airframe and military-grade technologies as the RangePro X8. However, Myers pointed out that now with a U.S. made flight control system (FCS) and other non-Chinese system components, the Pixhawk is equipped to deal with a number of commercial and governmental applications that include the following: “structural integrity surveys, terrain mapping and modeling, construction site planning and inspections of solar panels, pipelines, cell-phone towers and power lines.”*
Autel EVO II
Autel Robotics, based in Bothell, Washington, but owned by China-based Autel Intelligent Technology, announced in September, 2020, that it was releasing its “Autel EVO II Dual Enterprise UAS bundle/package” that offers its customers an “aircraft manufactured in the USA with foreign and domestic parts and labor.”*
Autel is marketing the Autel EVO II Dual as an enterprise drone for $1,500 and is “designed to aid public safety personnel in identifying persons and objects in the dark, through smoke/fog . . . with the highest resolution IR camera available, in addition to a second, separately functioning 8K resolution RGB camera.”*
The EVO II’s 8 is the world’s first foldable 8k drone with a camera that provides “deep-detail, zoom capability and the ability to stream video to any command location . . . and captures images with 16 times more pixels as HD cameras and four times as many pixels is 4k cameras.”*
Although EVO II weighs only 2.5 pounds, it has a bright orange color that makes it easy to track in the sky or see on the ground. It is equipped with omnidirectional obstacle detection, including 12 visual sensors and two ultrasonic sensors on the bottom of the drone.
The EVO II is marketed by Autel as a Dual package, thereby appealing to government agencies and other operators which were suspicious of buying a Chinese-made drone that could raise potential security concerns. The final product that is assembled in Autel’s manufacturing facility in Bothell, Washington, shows its international flavor with airframes from China, Sony imagers from Japan, and IR/thermal cameras from FLIR in the U.S.
In addition, the drone may be flown without connecting to the Internet through a mobile device, as the remote control offers a 3.3-inch display for FPV. According to Autel, “When connected to a mobile device for preview and autonomous flight modes, the mobile device may be put into airplane/no-data mode once local maps have been downloaded for mission planning.”*
Although many U.S.-based drone companies have struggled to gain a foothold in the consumer drone market due to the domination by China’s drone company DJI, several American UAV manufacturers have been able to create products for the growing commercial drone market. These have produced quality products in the U.S., which were designed to meet the needs of commercial customers in specific industries.
CEO Trevor Perrott, a former Textron employee, said he and two cofounders formed Censys Technologies as one of these companies based in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was established to produce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which were capable of meeting the specifications of the U.S. Defense Department. They sought recommendations on how their defense contractor firm could commercialize its military UAV technology for non-DoD customers. Furthermore, they now produce rugged and versatile commercial drones, yet inexpensive enough to appeal to non-military customers.
The company’s best-selling drone is the Sentaero BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) — a mid-range to long-range UAV — that is equipped with onboard detect-and-avoid technology and capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. It includes a solid-state lithium-ion polymer battery as its power source and has a maximum range of 55 miles, a maximum flight time of 1.2 hours and a maximum cruise speed of 45 mph.
The light (18 pounds), versatile Sentaero BVLOS platform can be retrofitted for many applications, such as agriculture, mapping, search and rescue, pipeline monitoring, emergency response, infrastructure inspection and disaster relief. Prices for UAVs that are configured for a specific commercial application are priced in the $40,000 range.
According to Perrott, all of the company’s aircraft are built at its plant in Daytona Beach as they “mitigate security concerns by making sure that primary components (flight controllers, datalinks, and payloads) are sourced from the US or allied nations.”*
Furthermore, Perrott points out that their company continues to be open to the possibility of producing consumer drones sometime in the future.
Inspired Flight appeared in late 2016, as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and components producer and started to build its own line of complete drones in 2017. In early 2018, the company produced its first commercial drone platform — the IF750 quadcopter — which it continues to build with many technological upgrades. In fact, its most recent flagship product — the IF1200 hexa-copter — currently represents about 75% of all its sales.
Adam Bilmes, Inspired Flight’s co-founder and director of operations, pointed out:
“As we were building our company and gaining traction in the commercial market, some Air Force customers reached out to us in late 2019 to develop a direct (DJI) M600 replacement, with the criteria of more ruggedness, higher reliability, longer flight time and higher lift capacity.”*
The company launched the IF1200 to military customers in early 2020 as a federally compliant heavy-lift UAV platform, which supports payloads of up to 18 pounds with flight times up to 40 minutes. Its optical system supports a range of cameras, which makes it possible to leverage complete camera control.
The IF1200, with its Universal Payload Interface, can integrate with any auxiliary system as it features payload spacing identical to that of the M600, which allows payload integration with minimum downtime. The drone has a signal range of about six miles, twice that of the M600.
Bilmes put it, “Our products are built as OEM platforms that can be tailored to specific requirements of the operator.”* In addition to its government customers, Inspired Flight works with the commercial side with representatives from several industries to develop applications for surveying, mapping and geospatial measurement.
From its very beginning, Inspired Flight has focused on producing drones in the U.S., which, according to Bilmes, is “one of the key reasons that Inspired Flight has been able to gain a lot of success and traction in the last years. A lot of the other companies were using Chinese technology a couple of years ago. Then they tried to quickly shift to being fully American. When we were founded in 2016, we made the commitment, even before the policy changes came out. We decided to compete with the big boys from the beginning.”*
Skyfish began its corporate life as a software developer, like many other U.S.-based drone manufacturers, and focused on the development of photogrammetry software to turn images and data into 3D models of cell-phone towers. According to CEO Dr. Orest Pilskalns, the company has evolved to where it is now building its own drones to support the buildout of its software platform.
While the company initially depended on drone platforms that were commercially available at the time in order to capture the images needed for its precision data collection. As Pilskalns put it, “We quickly found out that we couldn’t control the sensor with the capacities that we wanted, the gimbal that worked the way we wanted. Even the drone itself, the payload wasn’t right for the camera we wanted to carry.”*
Instead Skyfish started building out a drone platform according to its own specifications. Pilskalns explained,
“Now we’ve got everything. We’ve built out the drone. We’ve had the gimbal custom made for us. We made the controller in-house, and the batteries. We ended up slowly building out a hardware company where we were primarily a software company.”*
The Skyfish M6 drone is a six-propeller, foldable drone made of carbon-polymer construction. It is powered by long-lasting lithium-ion batteries, and is capable of reaching a top speed of 65 mph as it carries a 12-pound payload for 30 minutes, with a top flight time of up to 60 minutes.
The Skyfish M6 provides multiple flight modes that makes autonomous or manual operations possible. The drone is intended for industrial applications that require heavy payloads, which includes electro-optical, thermal and robotic equipment. In addition, it supports the Sony Alpha series of cameras for up to 61 megapixels of image-capture as it supports thermal and LiDAR capability.
As Pilskalns said, “It’s basically a ruggedized tool that you take out and scan stuff with.”* A fully loaded UAV costs as much as $30,000, which is similar to the cost of an equipped DJI drone.
Pilskalns proudly points out that Skyfish is an “all-U.S. company. Every employee is U.S. [and] all the software was built in the U.S.”* The only foreign parts are the motors and props, which are built in China, while the company hopes that one day in the near future, they will find a non-Chinese source for these components.
Hitec Commercial Solutions
Hitter Commercial Solutions was founded in San Diego in 1973, which means it has been around for almost half a century, unlike so many other U.S.-based drone manufacturers, which have sprung up very recently in the last decade. In 1973, Hitec was surrounded by the remote-control aircraft industry, selling servos and transmitters for RC airplanes.
Hitec’s drone sales manager, Justin Cunningham, points out that with the rapid growth of the commercial drone market in the last five or six years, “We transitioned into selling drones as well offering actuators for the commercial industry.”*
Xeno FX & Endurance
Hitec has two drone products: Xeno FX, a fixed-wing aircraft that is used for mapping and agricultural applications, and Endurance, a multi-rotor drone.
The Xeno has the capacity of up to an hour of fully autonomous flight time. Its fixed-wing design makes efficient cruise and maximum time possible. Its quick-change modular payload system allows the operator to reconfigure image preprocessing and data-acquisition hardware for multiple missions. The Xeno is equipped with a Sentera multispectral double 4K Sensor, with additional sensors available as well. Cunningham said, “It’s an extremely versatile platform that’s used for surveying, inspection and mapping.”*
Cunningham points out, “We do have customers that are federal customers. We’ve also got commercial surveyors. We do have approval to fly our aircraft over federal land.”*
The Xeno FX is engineered and built in the U.S., mostly with components that are manufactured in the U.S. or in U.S.-allied nations. Hitec sources some of these data-sensitive components from Canada, South Korea, and other countries that have been considered “safe” sources by the federal government.
The company’s business strategy is that products are engineered and manufactured in-house. Cunningham put it, “We have a very close relationship with all of our customers. Whereas with larger companies, they sell you the aircraft, then they kick you to the curb; and if you need help, good luck.”*
The base price is little less than $8,000.
Hitec’s Endurance offers precise responsiveness among the multirotor unmanned systems. With its lightweight aerodynamic body, powerful brushless motors, efficient carbon fiber propellers, and impressive camera stabilization unit, the Endurance is also easy to operate.
Its advanced autopilot capability means it seamlessly transitions between autonomous and manual flight modes with robust safety features for maximum mission success.
Its customized sensor packages means it offers optimized flexible payload integration featuring plug-and-play imaging and data-gathering options, and customized solutions are also available.
Endurance is made of carbon fiber and plastic with a frame size extended is 28.5 inches and weighs 7 lbs. It has a flight time of 40+ minutes and its maximum range is up to 10 miles.
Although the updated list of U.S. “Blue” drone manufacturers and their drones covered in this article is fairly covered, it is by no means comprehensive, thought does provide a look into what is available on the drone market.