China’s DJI Flies Into The Valley To Tap Local R&D Talent
In a move to leverage Silicon Valley software expertise — a growing trend among China’s tech leaders known as the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) — Chinese drone maker DJI is opening a large 12,000 square foot research and development center in Palo Alto and recruiting nearby talent. This strategic step by the Shenzhen-based DJI follows a move by Baidu, which opened an AI lab in Silicon Valley last year, to build on local talent and resources.
One key hire is former Tesla autopilot team leader Darren Liccardo, who joined DJI in August as VP of Systems and Applications. DJI, founded in 2006 and well-funded by Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital, is looking to hire at least 75 engineers, supplementing its 100 employees in LA and San Mateo who work on customer support, marketing and business development. The U.S. is DJI’s largest market, although regulations over consumer use of drones are in the offing.
DJI aims for the center to collaborate with developers and experts in computer vision, to build up an ecosystem of software applications and new use cases for its drones. Software will be critical in helping DJI maintain a lead against competitors such as 3D Robotics and Parrot, which also have Bay Area offices. These Valley links will complement DJI’s existing ties to hardware manufacturers in Shenzhen, where the company’s core engineering teams develop and manufacture products.
The Bay Area move, first reported by Fortune, dovetails DJI’s proactive steps to help foster a drone-friendly legal climate. In addition to hiring in-house policy experts in Washington, D.C. and New York, DJI recently joined the Federal Aviation Administration’s task force to have input on regulations being crafted for registering and identifying drones.