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Innovative EHang confident in nation's fast-growing drone market

2015-02-04 09:21 China Daily Web Editor: Si Huan
A technician from Ehang Inc tests a drone. EHang has sold over 3,000 unmanned aerial vehicles. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A technician from Ehang Inc tests a drone. EHang has sold over 3,000 unmanned aerial vehicles. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Hu Huazhi and Yang Zhenquan have a refreshingly straightforward approach to setting annual sales targets.

Two of the three founders of Chinese drone maker EHang Inc, they recently discussed the topic something like this, remembers Yang.

"Hu said to me, 'how about 100 million yuan ($16 million)?', and I agreed."

But maybe more than the informality of the process, the figure itself might seem the most surprising aspect of the conversation, given EHang only launched its flagship product in May last year and registered in Guangzhou in August.

Yang, however, said he is confident of harvesting a lot more income.

EHang has sold over 3,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, since starting up, worth an estimated 10 million yuan to domestic and overseas buyers.

Late last year, it received $10 million in funding led by GGV Capital, the venture capitalist that also funded Alibaba Group, with other cash injections made by Xu Xiaoping and Yang Ning, two of China's most successful angel investors.

Ehang also raised more than $787,000 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo starting in early November, and 370,000 yuan from the Chinese site Demohour in July.

Its astonishing early success has already seen it rated one of the top 50 innovative Chinese companies in 2014 by Fast Company business magazine of the US.

"We're excited to be working with EHang, because we love its unique approach to building this technology," said Jenny Lee, managing partner at GGV Capital. "It is leveraging mobile apps and unique features to make drones that are easy for everyone to use."

What makes EHang's drones so easy to use is they can be controlled by smartphone, not remote, with the connection created via a cigarette pack-sized communication device using Bluetooth.

The app was developed by EHang based on digital mapping and navigation with pilots able to direct the machines simply by touching their intended destinations on screen.

Yang's confidence in predicting the company's sales comes from what he refers to as the "nearly blank" home and overseas markets.

The consumer drone market, he said, is dominated by people who are simply "after some fun", typically, for instance, those who love using the new devices to take aerial photos and share them with friends.

"Of course, we get all kinds of enquiries from customers-one recently asked if he could use a drone to deliver flowers to a loved one," he said.

To the wider business market, drones are being used by a huge variety of sectors, from forest fire prevention, to disaster-hit area observation, broadcast journalism to emergency medical delivery and vegetation observation.

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