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Yuneec Ambitions: Will Zurich Lead Europe in Drone Tech, Compete with Silicon Valley and China

The H520 Drone | Yuneec
The H520 Drone | Yuneec

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Yuneec Ambitions: Will Zurich Lead Europe in Drone Tech, Compete with Silicon Valley and China

Is the Swiss city of Zurich set to become Europe’s answer to the drone tech hive of Silicon Valley and China?

One report suggests this may be the case, with leading drone manufacturing firms setting up shop in the European centre.

At the European level, Zurich is already a leader in drone core technology, with considerable research and development conducted in the country. This has created a strong “drone community” in the Zurich area in recent years.

There are already local success stories – like those of Lorenz Meier and Kevin Sartori, co-founders of Auterion. Meier is responsible for the development of PX4, for years the most widely used software for autonomous flying robots. Two years ago, the drone industry has made open source software the worldwide standard; with the exception of the industry leader DJI, virtually all major commercial drone manufacturers today use the PX4 autopilot.

Kevin Sartori, co-founder of Switzerland's own drone startup, Auterion

Kevin Sartori, co-founder of Switzerland’s own drone startup, Auterion | Twitter

“In recent years, Zurich has developed into the world’s leading location for the development of core technology for drones, i.e. autopilots and sensors,” said Kevin Sartori.

Their start-up company Auterion takes care of the targeted further development and adaptation of the software from Zurich. Auterion’s customers and partners include major corporations such as Intel, Bosch or Sony, but also drone producers such as Yuneec or Matternet, which carried out the drone flights between Ticino’s hospitals. Many of them now have an office in Zurich.

Hong Kong’s Yuneec are also a strong player in the drone tech industry of Zurich, and the world’s second-largest drone manufacturer believes Zurich has an important piece to play in the development of drone technology. They’ve already been operating a development lab since late 2016, under the name YUNEEC Advanced Technology Labs Ltd, with nine employees – and that’s set to raise to 15 by the end of this year.

At a media conference held by Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA) recently, Yuneec’s company founder Jiang Wenyan explained their reasons for setting up in Schlieren, which is within the canton of Zurich.

“The innovative environment in Greater Zurich is unique for a technology company like YUNEEC,” Jiang said. “We can work with leading universities such as ETH Zurich and recruit excellent engineers. The very good infrastructure, accessibility and high reliability confirmed our decision to invest in our Zurich location.”

Jiang Wenyan, found of Yuneec

Jiang Wenyan, found of Yuneec | GZA

Sartori also visited China late last year, showing a presentation to an interested community at Beihang University on leveraging open source software to increase reliability in drones.

GZA says that Zurich’s ICT industries are experiencing strong growth, with 100 foreign companies investing in establishment in the European centre. Out of the total, over a quarter are in information technology, followed by 15 in life sciences, 14 in the mechanical engineering industry and 9 financial services companies. These companies come from all over the world, including the USA, Germany, Italy, China and South Korea.

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