Wednesday, August 5, 2020

“We must not trust Chinese drones,” attacks the boss of the French manufacturer Parrot

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Punch on the table or lobbying operation? On the occasion of the presentation of its new model, Anafi USA, the boss of Parrot, Henri Seydoux, went up this week to defend his vision: professional drones more respectful of data protection.

In the middle of a final sprint to equip the American army with a reconnaissance quadcopter, Parrot is playing the confidentiality and cybersecurity card. Its CEO no longer hesitates to pound the Chinese competitor DJI, already severely criticized in the United States by the Trump administration.

An aggressive strategy, but it’s a good war: the manufacturer from Shenzhen has appropriated the world market for recreational and professional drones to the detriment of the Parisian company.

Henri Seydoux is the CEO and co-founder of the manufacturer Parrot / AFP / Noam Galai

First step point: Parrot definitely stops producing consumer drones. Is the page turned?

HENRI SEYDOUX. Yes, it’s over, we are only making drones for professionals. This decision is linked to the evolution of the consumer market, of which we were the pioneers. But it has greatly decreased in size and commercial interest.

A drone, which has the same technological level as an iPhone, represents more than a simple Christmas gift: it can be very useful in many professions such as cartography, agriculture and rescue services.

You were recently selected for a tender from the American army to provide them with reconnaissance drones, but with the constraint of manufacturing in the United States and not in China…

We are indeed going to produce with our American partner NEO Tech in a factory near Boston (East coast). It should not be believed that the production of electronics in the United States, which is more expensive, is such a big brake of development. There is added value in doing so: what is really expensive is not the manufacture but the design and marketing of a drone.

You put all the ingredients, especially industrial, to get this big contract. What would happen if you don’t get it?

We will soon deliver the final prototype for which we had obtained funding. Parrot has many customers and has tens of millions of euros in turnover. We would be happy to get this contract with the US Army but, if we fail, we will continue to move forward with our strategy.

We will begin to deliver a new drone, the Anafi USA, which is intended for firefighters or the police and will continue to be produced in the United States to be sold to Canadian police or Brazilian border guards. It is aimed at all those who want a drone whose IT security we can guarantee.

In the recent Parrot communication about your Anafi model, you were particularly virulent against Chinese drones, why?

I think drones must be blameless in terms of cybersecurity, we are very careful. We can show in detail and have our software audited to all our customers. We put many mechanisms in our models to make them safer to use and protect videos, photos or GPS coordinates.

The data on memory cards are encrypted and we comply with the most stringent European data protection regulations in the world.

What do you clearly blame your Chinese competitors for?

We also do not copy the data on our drones without the authorization of the user… and we have very strong doubts that this is also the case of the Chinese manufacturer DJI.

We promise that, unlike their technologies, our software is easily verifiable. We have looked at the various DJI publications on the reliability of their products and we have serious doubts about their assertion that the recorded data are not copied to a server in China.

Many security forces in France however use these Chinese drones to make surveillance, it was still the case during confinement…

We think authorities should be very careful about the cybersecurity risks with the drones they buy. We have serious doubts and we communicate with the various administrations on what DJI drones do.

What is the deadlock with the French authorities, why do they not buy Anafi for example?

We already have a lot of users in administrations, like certain fire departments or soldiers who appreciate our model with the thermal camera. There is no particular blockage.

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