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GoPro to release consumer drones next year, report says

The company's line of action cameras is already popular with drone enthusiasts. Now GoPro wants to sell aircraft as well.

GoPro may soon be competing with the most popular drones, like the Phantom, from China-based DJI.Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET

GoPro has its sights set on the skies.

The company makes a line of cameras that's become so popular among extreme sports enthusiasts and videographers who strap them to helmets, surf boards and other objects that the company rung up sales of $624 million last year. Now GoPro is developing consumer-geared multirotor aircraft to pair with its high-definition video cameras, according to a report Wednesday from The Wall Street Journal.

The device, the Journal said, will likely be pit against products from the drone industry's biggest players, including China-based DJI, French drone maker Parrot and California's 3D Robotics. Its price? Likely between $500 and $1,000 when it arrives late next year.

GoPro did not respond to a request for comment.

GoPro's planned entrance into the drone industry marks two significant shifts. For GoPro, it's an opportunity to sell consumers something other than a camera. Though the company sold 2.4 million cameras so far this year, up 15 percent from last year, GoPro is facing increasing competition from traditional electronics companies and camera competitors like Sony and Polaroid. For the drone industry, a GoPro drone marks a new splash in a quickly expanding market.

GoPro is already a go-to for drone enthusiasts eager to capture aerial footage. Many drone makers have included camera mounts in their latest products, but DJI and Parrot have begun packaging in their own cameras instead of relying on GoPro's. By moving into drones, GoPro wants to sell consumers both a camera and the vehicle that carries it.

Charles Anderson, an analyst with Dougherty and Co., has said that GoPro was missing an obvious opportunity by not turning its eyes toward consumer aircraft as thousands of users now upload drone-shot videos to the Internet. "They're making the GoPro money but not capturing the value of the drone," he said. Drones are also an opportunity for GoPro, he added, to prove that it's "more than a one-product kind of company."

This is also a sign the drone industry itself is growing beyond its hobbyist origins as more consumers flock to lower-cost drones that are easier to fly, despite the US Federal Aviation Authority's struggle to regulate them for commercial and recreational use. The drone industry is expected to grow to $2.2 billion by next year and $10 billion by 2025, according to industry trade group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The devices have become so popular, the hit animated television show South Park dedicated an episode to them.

GoPro's efforts to move beyond cameras began with a growing media business built on the backbone of its user base. With a YouTube audience of more than 2 million, GoPro has become a juggernaut in online video and has also made substantial inroads in traditional media, partnering with large television networks, individual athletes and prominent filmmakers. GoPro cameras are starting to show up in the NFL and are even being strapped to the necks of guitars as musicians perform live.

Primarily, GoPro is a maker of hardware. The 10-year-old company, based in San Mateo, Calif., went public in June and its stock has soared since, up 151 percent. In the past few months, all eyes have been on GoPro's heavy research-and-development spending.

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