Zhang Li‘s career path has looked like a bellwether for China’s tech developments. When the Cisco veteran joined WeJourney in 2018, the Chinese autonomous vehicle firm was lower than a 12 months outdated. In the following few years, the nation would grow to be a breeding floor for 3 AV unicorns, together with WeJourney, of which valuation surged to $4.4 billion final 12 months.
Zhang’s resignation from WeJourney in June, three months after the corporate filed confidentially for an IPO, got here as a shock to some individuals. But as we realized about his subsequent step, it grew to become evident that his determination was pushed by his aspiration to work on the “next big thing.”
The former WeJourney chief govt officer has joined LimX Dynamics, a Shenzhen-based robotics startup, as its co-founder and chief working officer. Zhang will primarily give attention to enterprise technique and operation, channel improvement, advertising and marketing and communications, and authorities relations, each domestically and internationally.
The timing, once more, appears fortuitous. Just final week, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a nine-page blueprint that outlined the nation’s purpose to mass-produce humanoid robots by 2025. Such top-level pointers have traditionally helped lure expertise and capital into a fledgling know-how subject.
After being within the AV trade for 5 years, Zhang felt an urge to maneuver on. Again, he was on the lookout for a startup to affix and had two standards in thoughts: first, it must have proprietary, cutting-edge know-how; second, it ought to be capable of entice substantial capital.
LimX Dynamics was his reply. Founded by a group of robotics scientists, the startup has already raised 200 million yuan ($27.5 million) in angel and pre-A financing. Along with the hiring of Zhang right now, the startup can be appointing Dr. Jia Pan, a tenured affiliate professor on the University of Hong Kong, as its chief scientist.
“My strength lies in working with entrepreneurial scientists and companies where technology and business develop hand in hand,” Zhang informed TechCrunch in an interview. Having helped WeJourney discover product-market match and scale robotaxi operations in China, Zhang appears to be a great candidate for the startup engaged on legged robots, a comparatively nascent kind of cell robotic that makes use of leg mechanics to maneuver.
From good driving to humanoids
The start of Optimus has sparked widespread dialogue on the similarities between robots and automatic or autonomous driving. When Tesla launched the humanoid robotic final 12 months, it highlighted the ties between the 2 areas. As my colleague Darrell reported then:
Think about it. We’re simply shifting from wheels to our legs,” defined one of many firm’s engineers. “So a number of the parts are fairly comparable [ … ] It’s precisely the identical occupancy community. Now we’ll discuss a little bit extra particulars later with Autopilot group [ … ] The solely factor that modified actually is the coaching knowledge.
Echoing the statement, Zhang mentioned the transition to the brand new job would seemingly be clean, due to the transferability of his data and skillsets from self-driving.
“It’s obvious that like autonomous vehicles, legged robots also use SLAM [Simultaneous Localization and Mapping]. But as I delved more into the two fields, I realized that they have many other similarities. Today, most households own a car or two, but in the future, they may own one or more robots to carry out domestic tasks. Like self-driving vehicles, robots are tackling the issue of moving from point A to point B.”
But as Darrell additionally incisively identified, the similarities is likely to be an oversimplification:
The area experience, whereas decreased to a easy translation by Tesla’s presentation, is definitely quite a complex one. Bipedal robots navigating pedestrian routes is a very completely different beast from autonomous vehicle routes, and oversimplifying the connection does a disservice to the immense current physique of analysis and improvement work on the topic.
It’s too early to say the place bipedal and quadrupedal robots will discover their mass adoption. LimX Dynamics is at the moment piloting a prototype for industrial inspection use, with the intention of bringing its robots to car manufacturing, logistics and family providers.
“Inspection is a no-brainer, but my job is to look for cases that aren’t even conceivable today,” mentioned the manager. “If you think of robots as a device with an operating system, then there’s a lot of room for imagination.”
After years of frenzied funding and hiring, the AV trade’s path to producing significant revenues nonetheless stays unclear in each China and the U.S. Will legged robots face a comparable destiny? Zhang expressed his need for a higher final result.
“Let’s hope that the robotics industry won’t sprint ahead without being able to land like self-driving.”