On December 18, DJI started hinting on its Instagram account at the impending announcement of its new flagship retail store in Shenzhen (using screenshots of 3D model generated using aerial shots processed by Pix4D). A day later, images started to appear on DJI social media, followed by an official press release dated December 20.
The new retail store is gorgeous, generating inspired comments on Instagram like, "Dang, it looks really nice." (seriously, it looks really nice).
What is interesting to me is not that DJI is starting to build a retail presence—DJI has been doing this for awhile now, with retail a booth at the Frankfurt International Airport since May, and one going up at Hong Kong International Airport 3 months ago. I'm much more interested in the RC cars shown on DJI's Instagram feed.
DJI hasn't yet explicitly said what they are showing in these photos, but the answer is right there in the picture: all of the guys the picture are wearing shirts that say, "RoboMasters," and another Instagram post uses the hashtag, #Robomasters.
RoboMasters is a DJI-sponsored robot battlefield competition in China in which university students compete by designing and creating FPV-driven robots that fight each other using projectiles in a multi-level arena that includes obstacles (based on DJI robotics infrastructure). The 2015 competition was a 6-month affair, and a winning team was announced just last month (the prize for gold was CNY 200,000—about $31,000).
If you go a bit back in time, people have been uploading various RoboMasters videos to YouTube for about half a year:
DJI recently registered the ROBOMASTERS trademark in a variety of categories covering robots (and educational / toy robots), robot parts, technology research services, and educational or entertainment competitions.
Until now, the RoboMasters events have stayed pretty much out of view here in the USA, but the fact that DJI has started to show RoboMasters cars in their official social feeds suggests that they will likely begin to push RoboMasters globally. Whether the RoboMasters brand includes robot competitions only, or whether the products start to be sold as RTF (RTD?), ground-based, RC toy battle vehicles, remains to be seen. Establishing RoboMasters as a global robotics competition would be really interesting, and DJI could even establish standalone arenas for cooperative team play for gamers.
The RoboMasters webpage says that one of the goals of the competition is to free students from online gaming and to push them into robotics, which is a pretty noble goal. Obviously, having DJI as such a visible brand in the competition framework also means that RoboMasters is also the ultimate recruiting tool for DJI. RoboMasters' organizing committee includes both Frank Wang, DJI's founder and CEO, and Professor Li Zexiang, Frank's university advisor and DJI's Chairman of the Board. In a meeting between Frank Wang and IEEE President Howard E. Michel in May, 2015, Frank said that he "believes that RoboMasters can one day be as popular as NBA and that the winners will equally be seen as superstars."
Finally, here's the RoboMasters 2016 promo video. Is anyone out there going to compete? ;)