3D Robotics

3DR's evolution from micro to mass


As many of you know, Jordi Munoz and I founded 3DR in 2009 as a way to help get drone technology into the hands of the masses.  And it certainly has reached the masses—these days, there’s never a day without many drone stories being published, and interest only continues to grow.

3DR continues to grow and evolve.  Where we were once a company focused on bags of parts and bare boards, we are increasingly centered around integrated products that just work for people, products that allow people to focus on the results rather than the mechanism.  Additionally, we’re placing bigger bets on a smaller number of products, with Solo being the prime example (so far!). Today, we are more than 200 employees and the overall business grew by more than 500% this year. 

Like the drone industry overall, we have evolved from a DIY company to a mass-production company and now compete directly with DJI and Parrot, both of which manufacture in large-scale factories in Shenzhen. We do the same with the Solo family and our future products.

For those of you who are familiar with my 2012 book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, you may recall that this was always the plan. The above is a chart from that book, which shows that as volumes approach 100,000 units a year, economies of scale and a focus on margins require a move to mass production and deep supply chain integration. That's the volume 3DR is now at. For a product that increasingly resembles a smartphone, this scale can really only be done in Shenzhen, the capital of the smartphone industry.

As part of this transition, we are in the process of sunsetting many of our legacy products, which were made in our Tijuana factory.  There are now many great frames available, many supplier of FPV cameras, and many companies focused solely on very specific drone components.  In the process of winding down some of our older products, we’ll do our best to point you to alternatives.  And of course, many of you here already build and release technology that surpasses what exists commercially today!

Going forward, we will focus on the Solo family and other core elements of our next-gen platform. In particular, we will continue to offer Pixhawk-compatible autopilots, with improved versions designed in cooperation with partners. And autopilots continue to be a core focus of 3DR, with exciting new platforms coming in 2016.

3DR will continue to work on making a difference where we can best do so: in providing highly integrated, innovative, and fully configurable complete systems.  Additionally, we will continue to provide tools to enable people to stretch the boundaries of what this technology can do, and to work with true innovators like those in this community to build the core elements of our common drone future.

You can count on us continuing to be VERY active in the DIY Drones community (today, seven years after founding it, I still post and comment every day -- it’s a source of constant joy and amazement for me, and one of my proudest creations).  You all have been a central part of 3DR’s vision and development and will continue to be so—and we will continue to be active contributors back to both this community and the broader Dronecode development project -- indeed, this focus on becoming a much bigger company will allow us to devote even more resources into contributing open source code to the community and recruiting more partners to do so as well.  

At 43 companies and counting, Dronecode has more than doubled over the past year, and we will lead its march as the world’s leading open drone platform by extending the platform into video, the cloud and advanced computing by creating world-class developers tools such as Dronekit and the Solo SDK.






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  • @James Pike glad you enjoyed it and thanks for pointing that out. Maybe this will help thin/cull the community so we can get back to discussing DIY aircraft and science related activities vs. corporate drone shenanigans.

  • There was probably little option but to change the focus of 3DR as DIY is simply dying. I am sorry to say it was the Phantom 3 that made me fully realize this and not the Solo -- after some years of using APM and Pixhawk platforms I realized that DIY was simply getting in the way. I still have and use my Pix/APMs. I see room for a Solo but maybe it will be a Solo 2.

    That said, the really interesting part of 3DRs journey is how well open source development can be seamlessly integrated into off-the-shelf products that just work. Doing cool open source development is not quite the same as making consumer products that function intuitively out of the box. Frankly, I dare say the latter is less fun.

    Right now, things like mapping, cloud image processing, and advanced autonomous flight are now becoming absurdly easy with DJI products and 3rd party apps--something I did not realize until I acquired a little white thing (the only RTF machine I ever have owned). I wish 3DR well and will always fly Arducopter firmware as long as it is available and in development. I am still building Pixhawk platforms for long range AP off windy coastlines.

    I hope 3DR figures out profitable segments of the market, that are not the focus of DJI.

  • Well, earth, I think you have some of it right - but not all.

    3DR could have done fine and stayed a 20-50 million dollar hobbyist and small commercial/industrial semi-custom shop. It was their decision not to - but rather to seek investments of 100 million dollars in order compete on the world stage.

    It's really not different than other companies. I know guys who had great 2-man drywall companies...next thing you know they had 60 people working for them! Of course, a few years later they were back to 2 and happier, but that's another story!

    Despite all the flak about drones they are a very real part of the future. They represent a large part of the robotics revolution that many have been predicting for decades - due to their ability to move in 3 dimensions without requiring expensive and complex ground-based locomotion.

    As with other such endeavors, most companies who attempt to get in at the start will fail. 

    "During the period 1896 to 1930 over 1,800 car manufacturers were believed to have existed in America."

    No different with drones. 

    The hostile environment, IMHO, was first due to Military Drones and the backlash which is predictable against any such new weapon (personally, I'd be surprised if military drones are less damaging to civilians than manned aircraft bombings, but that's another story).

    Now it has been exacerbated by idiots and "freedom droners" who feel they have the right to not be members of our civil society (fly anywhere, anytime and with no responsibility or caring for others).

    But all of this will eventually settle out. 

    3DR took the money and took the bet. Now they perform or they don't. The hobbyist end, unfortunately, is shrinking and there are more suppliers than ever before. We all know how that ends up.

    Tough market. We went through a similar situation in one of my former industries - from 400+ manufacturers to probably 20 or so. Even so, those 20 don't have enough business to thrive. It's a new world out there. 

  • earthpatrol:  What a fantastically insightful post.  In this industry there is a great deal of throwing a lot of crap at the wall and watching where it sticks.  When it sticks somehow that is proof that it is good enough.  Even at the high end it is still crap that is being flung.

  • No surprise here. Another casualty of the 1980s/1990s MBA programs and business practices. Not sustainable nor adaptable. Building a lot of ready-to-fly aircraft just to compete with the other toy makers in search of an investors or an exit strategy. It's pretty apparent that 3DR "drones" are hammer looking for a nail and 3DR recognizes this and is now trying to "cash out". Hopefully the FAA will take note of DJI/Yuneec and other players, like 3DR, who are flooding the market with not-ready-for-prime-time technology and hold them accountable for those products. Ready-to-fly, mass produced toys are what has led to the current hostile environment with respect to our industry. Enjoy the 15 minutes of "flight".(adapted from Andy Warhol) 

  • 3D Robotics

    The reason we so strongly supported open hardware is to ensure that the community will never be dependent on a single vendor for hardware. Today Pixhawk is one of the most popular designs out here, and compatible models are available from hundreds of other vendors (such as the excellent HKPilot 32). And, as I said in the post above, we will continue Pixhawk support for years to come.  I'll repeat the bolded part in the post above: 

    In particular, we will continue to offer Pixhawk-compatible autopilots, with improved versions designed in cooperation with partners. And autopilots continue to be a core focus of 3DR, with exciting new platforms coming in 2016.

  • Moderator

    + 1 for Ben. 

    Today's purchasers want to know the life expectancy of the product that THEY invest a huge amount of time and effort to understanding and applying to their vehicles.   Is the Pixhawk doomed? is it time to go elsewhere? 

  • Admin

    Hi Chris,

    It is nice to have a view of 3DR's path forward and what to expect in the way of future sUAS products.



  • It's likely a logical evolution for 3DR, but I've got the feeling that there's a hidden roadmap that we discover only day after day, and it may be coincidental but there were more event in the last few month than in the last several years :

    • Stopped support for APM
    • Creation of dronecode
    • Creation of the Solo
    • Moving the production to China and stopping "many of our legacy products"

    I understand that the company is changing and has to adapt to a competitive market, but if there are still other news, or better if there's a vision of what 3DR will be in two years it could be nice to communicate it more directly.

    If 3DR is to become another Dji, that's fine, but people who are today investing in Pixhawks or many other legacy products may be interested in knowing if it will be still supported in two years, or what's the big picture.

  • Excellent article! It still surprises me to see Chris Anderson posting and helping users here and drones-discuss. I hope the Iris+ isn't being phased out, I was looking at buying one soon.

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