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Parrot is creating a new ‘prosumer’ drone division after cutting a third of its workforce

With three new drones.

Parrot Disco-Pro AG

French drone maker Parrot is starting a new division to bridge the gap between its extremely expensive commercial line, which cost upward of $11,000, and its extremely inexpensive consumer drones, which can cost as little as $100.

The new division, dubbed Parrot Professional, is now making drones that fall into the “prosumer” category, the $1,000-$5,000 price range. Drones in this new division are intended to support construction and agriculture with a new work tool without the need for a professional pilot.

Earlier this year, Parrot announced it was laying off nearly 300 employees, about a third of its entire drone operation, and reorganizing the company to focus more on aircraft for commercial applications.

Poor performance in the fourth quarter of 2016 caused the company to miss its sales estimates by 15 percent, and Parrot projected that sales in its consumer drone business were unlikely to improve enough to generate “profitable growth ... over the medium and long term.”

The French drone manufacturer is one of the few companies that actually competes with China’s DJI, the biggest drone maker in the world. DJI holds about 50 percent of the market share for commercial and consumer drones North America, according to Colin Snow, founder of Skylogic Research, a firm tracking the drone industry.

Still, DJI is stiff competition. For drones in the $500 to $1,000 price range, DJI claimed about 36 percent of the market by units sold in North America last year. Parrot captured around 7 percent of the market in the same price range, Snow found.

To ring in the new division, Parrot is unveiling three new drones, all of which are basically souped-up versions of aircraft from its consumer line.

The Disco-Pro AG, for example, is a modification on the Disco drone, loaded with high-performance sensors and autonomous flight-planning software. That drone will be available for sale in June and will cost $4,500.

The other two drones are tweaked versions of the Bebop-Pro 3D, which provides aerial image capture for 3-D modeling, and the Bebop-Pro Thermal, which is equipped with a thermal imaging camera. The Bebop-Pro 3D will cost $1,100 and will be available in June. The price for the Pro-Thermal has not been released, nor has its availability date.

DJI has long made drones in the “prosumer” category, though until recently those have in large part catered to use cases in advanced camerawork and cinematography. The Chinese drone company does have a small line of aircraft it markets for things like power line inspection and crop spraying, and last year it hosted a conference in San Francisco, AirWorks, in an effort to engage deeper with the construction, agriculture and industrial inspection industries.

Parrot, on the other hand, has been serving customers in agriculture and construction for years, mostly through its commercial subsidiary Sensefly, which sells a wide range of aircraft that range in price between $11,000 and $25,000, according to a Parrot spokesperson.

The French drone maker’s new “prosumer” bridge between its super-high end and low-priced consumer products may give Parrot a leg up on DJI when it comes to serving new smaller agricultural and construction customers, since it’s already familiar with the needs of those industries with Sensefly.

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