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This Intel-funded company is the dark horse of the drone industry
In the consumer drone industry, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI is king. But another company has suddenly emerged as a major competitor.

Weeks after announcing a $60 million funding round from Intel, Yuneec is set to announce its first professional quality drone aimed at aerial photographers. The $4,999 Tornado H920 will allow up to 42 minutes of flight time – nearly unheard of in the drone industry. The Tornado comes just months after Yuneec’s first foray into drones with the lower-priced Typhoon model aimed more at hobbyists.

Yuneec worked with Panasonic to create a camera specifically for the Tornado with 3x optical zoom, allowing pilots to control it from the ground.

DJI, the world’s largest consumer drone maker, is also bringing new products to market that indicate it’s aiming to dominate on professional-grade drones. It announced Thursday two new cameras for the company’s Inspire 1 drone that will allow super high-resolution imagery and are geared toward the enterprise consumer. DJI is expected to exceed $1 billion in sales this year and raised a $75 million investment in May, valuing the business at $8 billion. 

But Shan Phillips, CEO of the U.S. branch of Yuneec, isn’t concerned about the competition. “The industry is big enough that there’s room for more of us,” he said. “What we want to be is the feisty number two.”

His bigger concern? Just getting Yuneec’s name out there.

Few people have heard of Yuneec -- even in the relatively insular world of drones -- or know how to pronounce it for that matter. (For the record, “It’s like ‘unique,’ ” Phillips said.)

The Intel funding round certainly will help the 2,000-employee company expand and advance its technology, but Phillips said one of the other key benefits is also the press and recognition that comes with being associated with Intel.

The Tornado line announced Thursday is a compliment to the company’s Typhoon model, which is priced at about $1,199. It competes with DJI’s increasingly popular Phantom.

Some critics say the Typhoon is too slow and too heavy. But Phillips says that it’s “less obtrusive, safer, sturdier” than the Phantom.

Though Yuneec’s drones are just now entering the space, Yuneec isn’t new to making remote-control products. Yuneec has operated as an original design manufacturer for products since 1999 such as the ‘Blade’ line of copters. But this year was Yuneec’s first leap into making its own products.

“We don’t launch products until they’re ready to be launched,” Philllips said. “It needs to be ready to fly, easy to fly, safe to fly.”

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