Last week, a friend in China shared this photo. It’s a scannable QR made of drones in the Shanghai skyline. As a friend puts it, in terms of imagination literally “the sky’s the limit”

How does it work? A key technology these drones rely on is Differential GPS (GDPS) – an enhancement to the GPS that provides improved location accuracy over short distances. Normal GPS has an accuracy of up to 15 meters – DGPS can be as good as 1-3 centimeters. 

We tried to scan the QR code from the photo above, it does not seem to work. However, our friend told us that on the spot it worked, and this is not the only time QR codes made of drones appear in the Shanghai skyline. 

Some drone facts

China’s mature drone supply chain has enabled the drone industry to (literally) take off. There are now about 7000 commercial drone companies in the country – mostly in Shenzhen, the “silicon valley of hardware’. 

Their traditional clients would be agriculture companies, or any business with a large land area they need to survey, and manage. 

The biggest DJI, alone accounts for 80% of the world’s commercial drone market. Their revenue in 2017 was US$2.8bil. 

I can only imagine how brutal the competition for the 20% remaining market size can be, for the 7000 odd companies, many of whom rely on the same supply chain, with little differentiation to each other. 

Attack of the drones 

It was only a matter of time for the more entrepreneurial drone companies to find a blue ocean – advertising through night sky displays

It has gone popular, and people in various cities have reported seeing such displays on a regular basis. 

Advertisement for a car brand:

Advertisement for very famous Chinese ham (yes, we are talking about the preserved meat):

And it’s also getting very common to use drones for marriage proposals now (it’s pretty impressive when you see the drones in action):

Here is a video which gives you a better sense how a show is actually orchestrated:

We enquired a few advertising agents, and as usual they are not willing to reveal the prices unless there is high probable commitment. We sense that the price could range between CNY12k to CNY 2 million (US$1.8k to US$307k), depending on the length, complexity of the display and the number of drones used. 

If you know how to negotiate, it will probably end up much cheaper than what Intel is charging (yes Intel is in this business too – we have no opinion on Intel’s current share price). 

In China, any blue ocean will very quickly become a red, or even purple, one, if price becomes transparent. 

And of course, the technology is universal, and can be deployed anywhere. This is what our friends saw in Jakarta Asian Games in 2018.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Prior to Momentum Works, Yorlin was in the financial sector in SIngapore and Hong Kong for 10 years - working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, AXA and HSBC. She feels that corporate knowledge are undervalued in the start-up ecosystem and want to change this. At Momentum Works, she manages operations, overseeing joint venture operations with partners from all over the world. She always makes time to speak to people as you never know what’s the next game changer in the fickle world of fintech, e-commerce or mobile internet. In her free time, you can find her being the slave to her 5 cats.