Chinese Drone Giant DJI Partners With Texas Startup To Sidestep US Restrictions

Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co. (DJI), China’s leading drone manufacturer, is facing potential exclusion from the U.S. market if Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R., N.Y.) Countering CCP Drones Act passes in the House of Representatives. However, the company has already devised a workaround by partnering with Anzu Robotics, a Texas-based startup founded by Randall Warnas, a former DJI employee.

Anzu Robotics, which launched in April, offers drones that bear striking similarities to DJI’s products, sharing the same hardware design, software, and compatibility with third-party accessories. The key difference is the color of the chassis—Anzu’s drones are green, while DJI’s are gray. Warnas himself has described Anzu’s drones as offering a “DJI-esque experience almost one-to-one.”

The partnership between DJI and Anzu Robotics is a strategic move to “Americanize” DJI’s drones and make them more appealing to U.S. consumers. DJI has faced accusations from the U.S. intelligence community that its products pose a potential spy risk due to concerns over the collection and transmission of surveillance data to the Chinese Communist Party.

Under the licensing agreement, Anzu Robotics manufactures DJI’s drones in Malaysia for sale in the United States, with DJI receiving a portion of the manufacturing expenditures. Warnas claims to have made modifications to DJI’s software to ensure that customer data is stored on servers in Virginia rather than being sent to China. However, he admits that some variables in the licensed software remain unknown.

Rep. Stefanik has labeled Anzu Robotics a “shell company” for DJI, accusing the Chinese company of attempting to evade inclusion on the FCC’s Covered List. Warnas, however, maintains that Anzu Robotics is a separate entity with no control from DJI.

Experts suggest that DJI’s novel licensing arrangement with Anzu Robotics could temporarily bypass regulatory scrutiny and potentially set a precedent for other Chinese companies seeking to evade U.S. sanctions. Nevertheless, the strategy risks provoking further action from Congress.