How the French parrot had to satisfy the suspicious American government

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The boundaries between consumer, corporate and now military drones continue to blur. This week, French drone maker Parrot announced that it was in the final stages of competition to supply short-range reconnaissance drones to the U.S. military. Reaching this stage required numerous assurances for a government wary of foreign drone manufacturers.

The company is best known over the years for its consumer models, such as the Mambo and the Bebop. But starting with Anafi in 2018, Parrot had a platform that could straddle both consumers and businesses. And now it will also serve as the basis for a military model. (The company would not share an image of its military drone, but says it is based on the Anafi.)

Made in the United States

Most telling in Parrot’s announcement is the length that the Paris-based company must go to satisfy a suspicious US government. He first had to find an American manufacturing partner, NEOTech, to build the models nationwide. In addition, all software must be installed on the American site, “guaranteeing high IP protection without data dissemination”. The press release also underlines that the drone is “designed with carefully selected components”.

All of these actions echo the growing discomfort of the US government toward drones made in China, including by world market leader DJI. The fear is that the Chinese government will use DJI as a backdoor to collect data on its drone users – an assertion that DJI strongly rejects.

Avoid foreign drone bans

It’s a smart decision on the part of Parrot and other manufacturers to tick all the boxes on American security issues. They are likely to grow. In January, the United States Department of the Interior issued an order banning the use of drones made in China or built with components made in China. As a result, DOI has immobilized its fleet of approximately 800 drones. Then in March, the media reported that the Trump administration was preparing an executive order to ban Chinese-made drones.

This order has yet to materialize. But there are still more possible roadblocks for non-American drone manufacturers. Legislation presented to the House and the Senate would aim to prohibit federal agencies from purchasing drones made in China and drones using components made in China. To be sure, Parrot and its American partner must therefore carefully select their components. And it’s difficult to do, given China’s dominant role in the industry as a whole.

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