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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Driven by fears of spying, the U.S. is taking dramatic steps toward weaning local, state and federal agencies off of products made by DJI, the Chinese small-drone giant.
Yes, but: The company's defenders say the moves are motivated as much by hard-line politics toward China as an attempt to head off a genuine security threat.
Driving the news: A House bill introduced last week would bar federal agencies from buying Chinese-made drones and drones with certain Chinese components. There's a companion bill in the Senate.
What they're saying: "Under Chinese espionage and national security laws, companies like DJI are required to turn over data to the Chinese government," Sen. Rick Scott (R–Fla.), who sponsored the Senate bill, said in a statement to Axios. "Why take the risk? There are American drone companies that we should be purchasing from."
But to some, the moves to bar DJI from the domestic market smack of politics.
Several government studies have cleared some DJI models for government use.
The bottom line: Even if DJI drones aren't shoveling sensitive data to Beijing, relying on a strategic adversary to supply a crucial technology is an "obvious fail in a great-power competition," says Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the think tank New America.
A DJI Mavic 2 drone. Photo: Michele Tantussi/Getty
Confusion around what will happen to Chinese drones is causing a stir even before any new laws are passed.
Why it matters: No other company's offerings come close to DJI's cheap, powerful drones, experts say — potentially leaving government agencies, police and first responders in the lurch if DJI is shut out.
By the numbers: DJI’s U.S. market share is estimated between 70% and 80%.
Public safety agencies make up the lion's share of drone users, and a recent survey from DroneResponders, a nonprofit, found that 77% of respondents were flying DJI.
"DJI casts an enormous shadow today," says Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio, a leading U.S. drone company. "Their aggressive dominance of the market isn't healthy in a lot of ways," he argues, citing an uphill battle for competitors and potential national security concerns.
To fill the vacuum that would result from a potential DJI exile, the government is encouraging homegrown dronemakers.
Several experts pointed to California-based Skydio as the best possible competitor to DJI. Its latest product has autonomous capabilities that DJI lacks, but it's made with Chinese parts that would cause it to be banned under the proposed bills, Bry tells Axios.
Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty
Projections of job changes from automation reach decades into the future, but the early shoots of these changes are visible already.
Why it matters: Today's workplace, with its social inequities and imbalanced power dynamics, will define the future of jobs.
Driving the news: A report out this week from New America is built on 40 in-depth interviews with workers on the front line of technology-fueled job chaos.
"Job quality today — hours, compensation, benefits, stability — is such an important part of the conversation on the future," said Molly Kinder, a report co-author, at a launch event in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
Key quotes: In the report and at the event, workers sounded off about the technologies magnifying existing problems like lack of benefits and insufficient hours.
Reflecting on a new HR software system, Naomi, a 27-year-old apartment complex manager, told researchers, "This is not a great thing because it means one person can do it. They could get rid of me and eliminate my job. The most annoying thing is that your fate is in someone else’s hands. If technology or AI comes in, your job can be lost just like that."
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Tech's new labor unrest (Scott Rosenberg - Axios)
Google's military contract dilemma (Joshua Brustein & Mark Bergen - Bloomberg)
Silicon Valley awaits its seismic shake-up (Alexandra Suich Bass - The Economist)
The tech-obsessed, hyper-experimental restaurant of the future (Joe Ray - Wired)
The company with a chokehold on texting (Jacob Kastrenakes - The Verge)
A previously discovered Nasca glyph seen from the air. Photo: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty
Using high-resolution aerial photos and 3D imaging, researchers at Japan's Yamagata University discovered 143 ancient "geoglyphs" — enormous drawings visible from above — in a Peruvian desert.
Why it matters: The new shapes, which likely date to about 100 BC–300 AD, add to the mystery of hundreds of previously catalogued glyphs found in the Nazca desert in southern Peru, many of which appear to depict animals or people.