Japan’s biggest drone maker sets its sights on the US

This week, ten-year-old drone company ACSL announced plans to enter the U.S. commercial drone market. The firm has already taken a sizable bite out of the market in its native Japan, with a certification from the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, as well as a deal to provide disaster support for the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. It says it's the country's largest by headcount, revenue and market cap.

The U.S. is a no-brainer for a company like ACSL. It’s a massive drone market, but government use has been stymied, in part by blacklisting. In October of last year, for instance, the Department of Defense included DJI on a list of “Chinese military companies.” It noted in a release:

The Department is determined to highlight and counter the PRC Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise are acquired and developed by PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities.

That’s just one in a small list of issues DJI, based in Shenzhen, has faced in the States, as the U.S. government began tightening restrictions during the Trump presidency. Those problems have only continued to mount for the drone maker, which currently commands more than 70% of the global market.

While DJI drones have remained popular among consumers, government contracts have been an entirely different story. The bans have proven a boon for U.S.-based Skydio, which hit a $2.2 billion valuation in February, months after scoring several large government contracts.

This news finds ACSL building out its U.S. team.

“ACSL has been working hard to establish itself in its home market with a lineup that has consistently proven itself as a reliable tool that delivers results,” Global CTO Chris Raabe said in a release. “We began arranging product demos for potential US clients late last year. With the opening of our subsidiary here in California, I am making the US my base, to be personally involved in our activity in the field, meeting these clients, demonstrating our capabilities, and learning about their needs.”

The SOTEN will be the first of ACSL’s products to be available stateside. The folding drone, which hit the Japanese market in 2021, bears more than a passing resemblance to DJI’s popular Mavic line. Exact timeline and pricing have not been announced. The company only says that it “will be offering a competitively priced NDAA compliant small drone to the US market later this year.”