How Autel Robotics hopes to shape the future of drone industry
When Maxwell Lee took over as the general manager of Autel Robotics, his family-owned business, in 2020, he knew there would be challenges. What he didn’t expect was that he would be navigating a period of historic tech innovation, speckled by a pandemic, major leadership changes, and supply chain crisis.
In a candid and wide-ranging interview with DroneDJ, Lee talks about the evolution of Autel’s multirotor platforms, acknowledges the increasingly fragile nature of drone businesses, and credits rival DJI for building a multibillion-dollar industry from scratch.
Autel Robotics is the drone unit of Autel Intelligent Technology, a manufacturer of automotive electronic components and diagnostic equipment. Explaining why his family decided to enter the drone industry, Lee says, “The drone subsidiary was the brainchild of founder Frank Li and Gary DeLuca, who was heading Autel Intelligence at the time. They knew there’s only so much growth an automotive diagnostic equipment maker can achieve, given the inevitable global transition toward green energy. They decided to bank the future on robotics, and picked drones as their platform of choice.”
Lee, a Boston University graduate, came on board just before the release of the EVO II drone to “do some serious restructuring” and oversee the day-to-day operations at the company’s Seattle office. “In terms of international growth, the US is the single most important market for Autel Robotics,” Lee explains. “Consumers here are excited about drone technology and have a lot of buying power. If you can succeed in the US, you can succeed in the rest of the world.”
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