In the early days of commercial introduction, drones equipped with optical equipment were mostly used to carry out dangerous tasks. However, their role has been expanded to various fields including agriculture, and food and parcel delivery. In December 2021, smart farm drones that monitor crops' temperature and humidity were showcased in Chuncheon some 75 kilometers (46.6 miles) northeast of Seoul.
South Korea's transport ministry said in a statement on December 19 that exports of South Korean drones and related services totaled $11,114,105 this year. The largest importer was the United States accounting for 70.6 percent of total exports. Japan was the second-largest with 6.7 percent, followed by Europe with 4.4 percent and Saudi Arabia with three percent.
The ministry's data showed that drone chassis accounted for 80 percent of drone exports. Drone-related services such as drone-based solar power monitoring systems accounted for 11 percent, followed by hardware components that involve drone parts with 8 percent, and software with 1 percent.
"We initially planned to reach about $2.3 million of drone exports for this year and promoted domestic drones through roadshows in foreign countries," the transport ministry's deputy director Park Jung-kwon told Aju Korea Daily. In 2023, the ministry worked with South Korean drone makers to host roadshows in Uzbekistan, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and the Czech Republic.
According to Park, these statistics exclude exports of military drones that are not normally disclosed due to security reasons. "As we aim to strengthen the private drone industry, we are focusing on supporting companies that are involved in the development of commercial drones," he said.
China has been regarded as one of the largest drone markets in the world. According to data released by drone market research firm Drone Industry Insights in 2019, China-based drone manufacturer DJI accounted for 70 percent of the global drone market share. Regarding military drones, the U.S. Congress prohibited its defense department from purchasing or using Chinese drones and components in 2019.
Drone delivery service is also gaining momentum in South Korea. In July 2023, the operator of CU started the service in two water parks in Seongnam, a southeastern satellite city of Seoul. Anyone can receive products such as snacks and quasi-drugs using a QR code. In August of this year, a delivery drone run through hydrogen power and batteries was tested in Seosan, a South Korean coastal city with many small islands. The city will commercialize drone delivery for residents living on its islands.
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