GoPro Inc. is developing its own line of consumer drones to expand from its core business of making wearable video cameras popular with surfers and other sports enthusiasts, according to people familiar with its plans.
The company plans to start selling multirotor helicopters equipped with high-definition cameras late next year, aiming for a price tag between $500 and $1,000, according to these people.
The entry of a big consumer-electronics brand to the drone market signals how mainstream—and lucrative—the industry has become in just a few years. Consumers have flocked to unmanned aircraft in recent years as technology advances have made them smaller, cheaper and easier to fly, leaving regulators scrambling to keep up.
Consumer drones are typically lightweight helicopters with cameras that can be controlled with a tablet or smartphone. U.S. regulators allow their use by hobbyists. The devices are expected to be hot sellers this holiday season and have even inspired their own version of the selfie, or self-portrait photo, called a “dronie.”
GoPro’s move into drones comes as its market-leading camcorder business faces competition from rivals such as Sony Corp. and others. The 10-year old company, which went public in June, has been investing heavily in research and development to maintain its lead in the camera business, which shipped nearly 2.8 million units in the first nine months of the year, up 15% from the same period last year.
San Mateo, Calif.-based GoPro is already a supporting player in the drone market, providing many of the roughly 3 oz. cameras that consumer drones carry. But GoPro may be hedging against a business it could be losing; the world’s biggest consumer drone maker, SZ DJI Technology Co. of China, recently started selling devices that come with its own in-house cameras. Other drone makers could stop supporting GoPro devices if they are competing head-to-head with the camera maker.
“I’m happy to let GoPro keep making great cameras and we’ll keep making great copters,” said Colin Guinn, senior vice president of sales at Berkeley, Calif.-based 3D Robotics Inc., which sells GoPro cameras with its drones.