Drone Show Korea 2023: How “Hype Boys” are Paving the Way for K-Drone Innovation and Global Expansion

Logan Jones
March 6, 2023
4 min. read
Unlike our regular data-driven posts focused on drone market dynamics, the following report is a journalistic blog written by our Korean correspondent Aa-young Kang
Drone Show Korea BEXCO entrance

Entrance to Drone Show Korea 2023 at BEXCO Center in Busan, Korea

Drone Show Korea 2023, the largest drone exhibition in Asia, was held this year from February 23 to 25 in Busan, South Korea. The event featured 625 booths from 172 companies in a 17,600-square-meter exhibit hall meters. The exhibition highlighted the future of drones and their growing impact across industries by showcasing various drone models and inter-industry convergence cases that spoke to the sheer scalability of the drone industry. This year, Drone Show Korea attracted an impressive 25,000 visitors over three days, leaving little space to move around. 

The speakers, chosen by the Drone Show Korea 2023

One of the most heated conversations at the event revolved around where exactly Korea stands in the global market. The keynote session, “Challenges for the Drone and Future Mobility Industries,” and the plenary session, “Global Drone Market for K-Drones,” brought together speakers from around the world to examine and share their views on this topic.

Hendrik Stage Drone Show Korea 2023

Drone Industry Insights CFO Hendrik Boedecker on stage at Drone Show Korea 2023

During his speech, Hendrik Bödecker, the CFO and Co-founder of Drone Industry Insights, shared that based on the Drone Industry Barometer, Korean drone companies only export 11% of their products, compared to the global average of 28%. He went on to express his admiration for the technological advancements in South Korea and suggested that it was a good time for Korean drone companies to consider expanding internationally, particularly given the recent restrictions on DJI in the United States. Hendrik also noted that European companies currently have a higher export rate than Korean companies. “This information may be of interest to those in attendance,” he added.

While the Korean drone market has significant potential, Korean companies have yet to fully penetrate the global market. The K-hype trend, fueled by growing interest in Korean culture, has not yet extended to the K-Drone trend. However, K-Drone start-ups are introducing innovative technologies and business models that can compete on a global scale and these were on display at Drone Show Korea 2023. 

The latter half of the session showcased “Young Pioneers,” which are startups widely recognized around the world. These startups are leading the global market as local startups, demonstrating the potential of Korean drones to make a significant impact on the global market.

Localization & Execution were the keys, says the hype boys

Nearthlab and UVify unraveled their breakthrough stories and strategies. Notably, Jay Choi, co-founder and CEO of Nearthlab, laid out the ropes for attracting international investors as a local startup. He went on to highlight that working with partners both in and out of Korea has led Nearthlab to become the entrusted supplier of autonomous drone solutions in over 20 countries, leading the safety inspection industry. Starting out as a two-man squad, Nearthlab has grown into an army of dedicated industry experts, eventually getting awarded by CES(Consumer Technology Association) for its state-of-the-art drone technology.

Choi emphasized that Nearthlab’s global exposure was a result of their focus on identifying and meeting market needs through the application of localization and their data-driven core technology. As a result, their client base includes major corporations such as Softbank, Siemens Gamesa, and Vestas.

Nearthlab offers autonomous drone solutions for infrastructure inspections in various industries, including wind energy and bridges. Nearthlab’s solutions have helped companies complete turbine blade inspections within fifteen minutes, whereas the traditional method took 6 hours or more. Gathered data are analyzed by deep learning algorithms, unlocking valuable insights from raw data and assisting in streamlining operation and maintenance processes. Today they have two branches outside Korea – USA and Germany. The decision to go abroad was mainly born strategically, Korea has only about 750 wind turbines in total, while Europe has 188,800 and the US market has 70,000.

UVify designs and makes high-performance drones for recreational purposes. Their drones are renowned for their advanced technology, speed, and agility, and are used in various fields like aerial cinematography. UVify has a global distribution network. The Busan Gwangalli Marvelous Drone Light Show, which has taken place every Saturday on Gwangalli Beach since last December, is one of the company’s ongoing main projects.

Sights from Drone Show Korea 2023

Booth Showcases and Trend Spotting

Drone Show Korea 2023 boasted a line of booths featuring Pablo Air, Doosan Mobility Innovation, Hojung Solutions, and Hexafactory, all showcasing locally-made drone solutions. Leading international brands such as Flyability, DJI, Autel, and Parrot had their own booths, some of them partnered with local distributors or partners like Skyports, Wingtra, and Quantum Systems. An eye-catching trend was the showing of Doosan’s hydrogen-powered solutions. The Korean MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport) and KIAST(Korea Institute of Aviation Safety Technology) also had a booth presenting regulatory topics such as applications and testing for drone operators.

Notably, the booths of the South Korean army, navy, and air force attracted a significant number of visitors from Drone Show Korea 2023. With the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the importance of national security and related technologies has never been more critical. Citizens are showing a great interest in their country’s advanced technology in light of this global instability. The South Korean government has been investing in drone technology and has established several drone testing centers. As technology improves and new applications are developed, the industry is expected to continue to grow.

VIDEO: sights from Droneii at Drone Show Korea 2023

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