DJI, the large Chinese drone maker, is facing mounting security concerns within the Trump administration that its flying machines could send sensitive surveillance data back to China. Now, the company is trying to get on American officials’ good side by building a new product in the United States, the New York Times reported.
The company, which is privately held, said on Monday that it would repurpose a warehouse in Cerritos, Calif., to assemble a new version of a drone that has been popular among federal and local government agencies. The assembly of its flying devices in the United States will represent a small percentage of DJI’s overall global production, but it could help the company meet federal requirements.
In addition, the company is building the new machine, called the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, so that it can save data it collects only on the drone itself, and can be taken off the machine only after it lands. The machine cannot transfer any of the information wirelessly online, the report said.
The new production facility and the drone’s data features, the company hopes, will be enough to allow the new product to be sold in the United States. About 70 percent of all drones in the country are supplied by DJI, according to one estimate. The company makes small drones for hobbyists as well as the higher-end industrial grade drones used to survey remote areas and forest fires, among other uses.
The announcement comes as President Trump prepares to meet with President Xi Jinping of China this week for trade talks that have put Chinese and American tech companies in the cross hairs of a prolonged and punishing battle over trade and a race for technology leadership, the report said.
The White House has said that the telecom giant Huawei and other Chinese technology companies have the ability to spy and steal commercial and government secrets, posing a security threat to the United States. Those concerns have bled into the trade and economic war with China, sending chills across the global technology industry.
Shenzhen-based DJI, or Da Jiang Innovations Science and Technology, has not been put on the administration’s export blacklist, but starting in late 2017, it became the focus of government scrutiny after American customs and immigration officials raised concerns that the drones, with cameras, mapping technology and infrared scanners, could be used to collect sensitive data and send it back to the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, DJI submitted a letter to the US Senate on Monday, denying “incorrect” speculation about the company’s data security practices, China Daily reported.
DJI drones “do not share flight logs, photos or videos” and “do not automatically send flight data to China or anywhere else,” according to the letter.
The letter said that some witnesses at the subcommittee hearing on June 18 proposed to limit competition, innovation and the availability of drone technology “based solely on its country of origin,” and it may cause “a ripple effect that will stunt economic growth and handcuff public servants who use DJI drones to protect the public and save lives.”
“The unsubstantiated speculation and inaccurate information” presented at the hearing will “put the entire US drone industry at risk,” according to the letter.