Has 3DR returned? Here’s what we know about the American drone company

Is 2024 the year of a 3DR return? It seems like the answer is very much “yes.”

3D Robotics, the American drone company known for building the Iris and later Solo consumer drones, spectacularly crashed and burned. It had raised nearly $100 million, only to build an initial flagship drone that received scathing reviews upon its 2014 launch, including a comparison to a “large, mechanical insect” by PC Mag. The supposed new and improved follow-up, the Solo (which came out in 2015), suffered a similar fate that included missed product deadlines and buggy components. By 2016, the company had shut down manufacturing operations to pivot to drones as a service.

Then in 2021, Kitty Hawk (which was an air taxi company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page) purchased the remaining assets. That included bringing on 3D Robotics co-founder Chris Anderson as Kitty Hawk’s chief operating officer. And by September 2022, Kitty Hawk, too, had shut down.

According to his LinkedIn, Anderson is now “working on something new.” Meanwhile, 3D Robotics’ other co-founder, Jordi Muñoz has stated on his LinkedIn page that he is still at 3D Robotics, where he’s been for the past nearly-16 years.

While lots of products and people have left 3D Robotics, it looks like Muñoz never did. In fact, it seems as though Muñoz might be building 3D Robotics into a new type of company. And that very likely means 3DR has returned.

What we know about the 3DR return

A relatively-new website has popped up over at 3DR.com. At the top in colorful letters is the fact that the company’s products are made in California, with the words “Proudly Californian” in bold letters. The website indicates that the new 3DR is headquartered in a business park in Chula Vista, California, which is the second-largest city in the San Diego metropolitan area located south of downtown San Diego (closer to Tijuana).

3DR return made in California America
A screenshot of the new 3DR.com about page as of December 2023 advertises that the company is “proudly Californian.”

The new company also calls itself 3DR Inc, rather than 3D Robotics as the former company was called. The domain is also 3DR.com (as opposed to the old 3DRobotics.com domain). In fact, 3DRobotics.com redirects now to kittyhawk.aero, which today takes you to a simple page stating that Kittyhawk has ceased operations.

Kittyhawk old 3DR ceased operationsKittyhawk old 3DR ceased operations
A screenshot of the 3DRobotics.com website as of December 2023 shows how it redirects to a page on Kittyhawk.aero stating that the company has ceased operations.

As far as 3DR’s homepage, it’s obvious that the 3DR return is official and supposed to be celebrated. In big, bold letters are the words “The Return” which then point to a shop page.

3DR return new website3DR return new website
Has 3DR returned? Here’s what we know about the American drone company

And the 3DR shop is already operational, and most items appear available to ship (with 2-day shipping times, typically). For now, all the products are for the DIY crowd. There are quad frames, brushless motors, sensor and power modules. Unlike companies like DJI that promote ready-to-fly, off-the-shelf drones, the products are very much not that.

It seems as though 3DR’s goal is to embrace those types of products. “We focus on the best known open-source and open hardware-based autopilots,” according to a statement on 3DR’s website.”

The company is also heavily leaning into its made-in-America ties.

“Having the production capabilities in-house allows for keeping the quality at a top level as well as a secured pipeline in US soil from the supply chain all the way to product testing and shipping,” the 3DR website states.

Other ways to follow along with the new 3DR

The new 3DR return website has placeholder pages for Instagram and X accounts, as well as for a blog, newsletter and events page, which should all offer information in the future about the 3DR return.

For now, though, the best way to follow along is through the 3D Robotics Discord community server. That server was first created in October 2023, though it doesn’t appear to have begun being advertised and have started accruing members until the tail-end of November 2023. It’s still very small (as of publication, it has fewer than 100 members), but it looks to be a source for resources, announcements, tutorials and random chatter.

What to know about Jordi Muñoz

3D Robotics was originally co-founded in 2009 by Chris Anderson, who formerly was editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and founder of DIYDrones.com. Whereas Anderson brought the marketing and communications experience, his co-founder brought engineering expertise. Jordi Muñoz, who studied at CETYS Universidad, was considered an engineering prodigy where he lived in Ensenada, Mexico.

While 3D Robotics was headquartered in Berkeley (near Anderson), the company had engineering facilities in San Diego and manufacturing operations in Tijuana, Mexico, all closer to Muñoz.

Distancing itself from the old 3DR

While the new company is maintaining a very similar name to 3D Robotics, the 2024 incarnation is very much distancing itself from the old in its 3DR return. There’s a large disclaimer on the 3DR website, which is copied below here:

Please note that 3DR Inc was a distinct entity before the year 2023. As a result, any products that were sold prior to 2023 under the previous company name are not covered by our present terms of responsibility or warranty. We kindly request your understanding that our business is not providing any support for sold products under the 3DR label prior to 2023.

For any inquiries, concerns, or issues related to products purchased under the former company name before 2023, we recommend referring to the terms and conditions that were applicable at that time. We appreciate your awareness of the distinctions in our company’s history and the implications this may have on product-related matters.

-Disclaimer page on the new 3DR website

Even the distance is clear on the 3DR Community Discord server. When members make posts with words like Solo, it appears there’s a bot ready to respond. For example, a user posted a question in November 2023 referencing the Solo drone, and was instead met with this bot response:

“It seems like you’re asking about the Solo: a product from 3DR’s earlier days. Just a heads up, we discontinued support for the Solo as of 2023. While we’re fond of its legacy, our focus has shifted to newer & exciting developments.”

3DR return discord server3DR return discord server
A screenshot of the 3DR Discord Server shows how the Bot responds when you bring up the old Solo drone.

What’s next, and what can you expect from the 3DR return?

As for what to expect from the 3DR return, we’ll be following along. The Drone Girl reached out to 3D Robotics through their email form for comment for this story, but did not receive a response.

I’ve also transparently introduced myself over in the Discord, where I was greeted by the Server’s owner, named Toton. Multiple posts on the Discord server indicate that the company intends to formally launch in 2024.

Come 2024, though, the world will be watching. Especially given concerns around Chinese-made drones, customers have sought a drone that’s made in America. Even price-conscious hobbyists demanded American-made consumer drones (though there really is no good consumer camera drone made in the USA).

Skydio X10 droneSkydio X10 drone
Photo courtesy of Skydio

Skydio was America’s best shot at a home-grown consumer drone. That was, until Skydio announced this summer that it would shut down its consumer drone arm to instead focus on building drones and related products for enterprise and defense industries. These days, the company seems to be mostly focusing on its Skydio X10 drone, which is an enterprise-range drone known for its high-resolution cameras.

So will the 3DR return fill that void in 2024? We’ll be watching. To ensure you don’t miss a beat, enter your email below so you can receive email updates via our daily newsletter.

Meanwhile, what do you think about the 3DR return? Leave your own comments below!