Asia is the world’s fastest-growing market for robotics solutions, and for good reason. As the region’s quickly-growing countries industrialize and begin making more goods than ever, robots help them do so at a comparatively lower cost than doing so with human capital. The region has long been seen as an innovator in the consumer robots space as well. China is now arguably the global leader in the industrial robotics space, while Japan has long been the perennial home of consumer-focused robots like the ill-fated Aibo or the popular Pepper.
As the region’s most innovative robotics startups continue developing their products, they’re increasingly looking to expand globally. Startups like Makeblock and Rokid have already signaled their international ambitions, and others are quickly following. Read on to learn more about the region’s most innovative robotics startups, and how they’re making their mark on one of the world’s fastest-growing industries.
UBTECH is already one of the world’s leading robotics startups, but it has plans to grow even faster. The Shenzhen-based robotics company recently announced $820M in Series C funding (led by Tencent’s venture arm), which now values the startup at more than $5B. UBTECH specializes in building humanoid robots and offers both commercial and consumer models.
With the fresh round of funding, UBTECH will continue developing its next generation of robots, which will leverage AI technology and integrate with other home appliances and robots already on the market.
Chinese robotics startup Geek+ is quickly becoming a major player in the fast-growing industrial robots sector. Its diverse line of logistics-focused robots provides companies with a full suite of automation capabilities, ranging from warehouse automation to automated order fulfillment. The company has raised more than $60M in funding to date and is planning a major international expansion for later this year.
Geek+’s most recent innovation is what it calls the world’s first “interweaving sorting robot”, an automated system that boosts parcel sorting efficiency. This technology is already proving integral to boosting the logistics capabilities at ecommerce powerhouses like Alibaba and Taobao, proof of the growing market at stake here.
China’s robotics market is so large that sometimes it’s easy to forget that startups in other Asian countries are making significant strides in the space too. Enter Robot 3T, a Vietnamese robotics startup that’s building industrial-grade robots for quickly-growing SMEs in the region. While most of its robots are designed for manufacturing facilities, Robot 3T has also created several humanoid robots which it markets to the service industry.
In addition to its line of industrial robots, the Ho Chi Minh-based Robot 3T has also designed a separate set of automated weapon stations designed specifically for military use.
Coolso is the Taiwanese company behind some of the most innovative gesture-control devices on the market today, with use cases in everything from VR systems to medical rehabilitation. Coolso’s gesture-control products operate based on muscle movement alone, making them far more sensitive than the average AR/VR gesture controller.
Just over a year old, the company’s award-winning products use a patented form of proprietary bio signal technology, making them truly unique in the robotics space. In 2016, the firm won the Grand Prize in the OpenStack Application Hackathon in Taipei.
Makeblock is a Shenzhen-based startup that is creating the next generation of educational robots for children around the world. The startup offers a diverse line of robotics products designed to teach children how to code, and it most recently raised $30M in Series B funding from investors like Sequoia Capital late last year to help it reach that goal – valuing at over $200M just five short years into its existence.
In addition to developing the robots themselves, Makeblock has also forged technology partnerships with other tech companies (such as Microsoft) to bring its robots to students in higher-education robotics programs.
Youcan Robotics is a startup that’s designing an underwater robot that anyone can use to capture HD video and explore the depths of the world’s oceans. Youcan’s underwater ROV Drone is saltwater-resistant and has a 4K video camera built-in, along with a battery life of up to 5 hours. It’s also able to lock onto and track underwater objects, just like an air-based drone.
The Shanghai-based startup has primarily grown using seed funding so far, and has been conducting crowdfunding rounds on platforms like Indiegogo to fuel its earliest stages of growth.
CloudMinds is a startup that’s developing connected cloud-based systems for robots. With dual headquarters in Beijing and Silicon Valley, CloudMinds wants to build the world’s first cloud computing network designed specifically for intelligent robots. In addition to what it calls “cloud-connected smart machines”, the startup is also building a cloud-based software layer that will allow robots to interface with their “cloud brain” to make decisions effectively.
CloudMinds has also developed a wearable helmet that allows visually impaired people to interface with robots via its cloud-based platform.
Now one of the world’s largest consumer drone makers (with more than 70% of the consumer drone market already secured), DJI is still in hyper growth mode with plans to roll out ever more advanced drones in the coming months. Many of its drones (like the Phantom 4) already have semi-autonomous flying capabilities, and DJI is currently working on several drones that it hopes will be fully autonomous.
In recent months, DJI has been more aggressive about seeking funding, and earlier this year it was reported as seeking $500M in funding to help it grow even further ahead of an anticipated IPO, which would likely be early next year.
South Korea-based SG Robotics is looking to disrupt the world of robotics with its revolutionary self-powered exoskeleton devices. The startup’s robots, which are designed for people with disabilities or paralyzed individuals, give any person extra strength when walking, and also have the ability to carry heavy loads.
The startup recently won 3rd place at the world’s first Cybathlon held in Switzerland, a competition of the world’s most advanced exoskeleton robots.
Borns Robotics is a medical robotics startup based in Chengdu, a bustling business hub in western China. Its line of robotic surgery tools give doctors the ability to conduct highly complex and risky surgeries with unprecedented precision and accuracy. Earlier this year, the startup announced the raise of $18M in financing in a funding round led by Swiss China Capital.
The funding is expected to fund the startup’s research and development efforts through the completion of its first clinical trials, as well as the wide-scale rollout of BMR5000, its next-generation automated surgery system.
Rokid is a Hangzhou-based startup that produces a diverse range of smart devices and robots, ranging from AI-powered voice assistants to robotic smart glasses. Earlier this year, the startup raised $100M in Series B extension funding in a round led by Credit Suisse to help it expand in the US, its second largest market after China.
In addition to its technology-focused R&D team, Rokid also boasts a highly-qualified scientific advisory committee to help inform its work. The committee is comprised of dozens of members from a diverse range of industries.
Tokyo-based Ascent is building the next generation of AI-powered robotic vehicles. Ascent’s research team is intensely focused on developing highly advanced neural models and machine learning algorithms to be the “brains” of its intelligent vehicles, which range from autonomous vehicles being manufactured by major carmakers, to boutique projects.
The Ascent team has raised more than $11M in funding to date, and continues to work with a wide range of technology partners in the automotive industry to develop its technology.
Though a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Softbank, the team at Softbank Robotics operate as their own startup. The startup is perhaps best known for its humanoid emotion-reading robot, Pepper, which is already in widespread use around the world (primarily in the service industry, for which it was originally designed).
The robotics startup recently announced a landmark partnership with HSBC, which will see it become the first to roll out the robot in HSBC bank branches across the United States.
Founded in 2007, Tokyo-based LifeRobotics develops industrial robots that help businesses automate manufacturing and warehousing processes. The LifeRobotics team also develops what it calls “cooperative working robots” – automated machines that are able to learn advanced functionality and tasks provided they have a user’s guidance.
LifeRobotics was recently acquired by robotics behemoth Fanuc in a multimillion dollar deal that will allow the startup to continue operating as an independent entity under the Fanuc umbrella.
Insight Robotics is a Hong Kong-based startup that’s developing robots to improve the obscure (but critical) forestry management industry. Its data collection robots, which are designed to be deployed in heavily forested regions or national parks, give operators the ability to detect potential problems (such as forest fires or tree diseases) more quickly than ever.
The startup has closed more than $12M in funding to date, and earlier this year announced an additional $9M in funding in a new investment round led by Linear Capital and Beyond Ventures.
The China-based team at AI Nemo has developed one of the world’s first home companion robots, the Nemo. The startup, which has raised more than $10M in funding to date, is presently building the next generation of its robot, which integrates with a number of consumer appliances and can also make video calls. The robot is marketed as a way to improve communication between family members, and can be remotely controlled by a proprietary mobile app as well.
Beijing-based AUBO is a rising star in the growing cobots (collaborative robots) industry. Its robotics products are targeted towards warehousing and manufacturing facilities, and are designed to work in conjunction with humans to perform complex manufacturing tasks. The company’s flagship robot arm sells for around $18K, and has found a loyal customer base in the automated manufacturing sector.
The startup has dual research and development centers in Beijing and the United States, and has established technology partnerships with manufacturing companies in both countries.
PLEN Robotics is an Osaka-based startup that’s building the Cube, what it bills as a “portable personal assistant robot”. The Cube is a robot designed for the consumer space that’s equipped with a smart camera, motion tracking and facial recognition technology, as well as speech recognition capabilities. The startup recently announced a partnership with Softbank which will see it work with the technology giant to develop a smart speaker.
Shanghainese startup Slamtec builds localization and navigation services for smart robots. Using cutting-edge AI technology, the startup is developing a “robot cerebellum” that will have the ability to autonomously make agile movements, as well as have increased depth perception. Last year, Slamtec raised $22M in Series C funding to develop the next generation of automatic positioning algorithms for its robots.
ZongMu is building software that helps autonomous vehicles “see” while on the road. Last year, the startup secured $14M in Series B funding to help it improve its self-driving technology, which is already being used by some of China’s largest automakers (like Geely and Yema Auto). This month, ZongMu announced a strategic partnership with automotive electronics manufacturer Visteon to develop the next generation of automated parking technology.
Aether is a medical robotics startup that’s based in New Delhi. The team at Aether is building next-generation robotics solutions for the future of healthcare, including its flagship product Zeus – a bionic limb for amputees. The startup partners with doctors and medical researchers around the world to develop additional technology solutions through its “medical device innovation platform”.
Bangalore-based Mitra has quickly risen to become the most advanced humanoid robot manufacturer in India’s startup ecosystem. Its 5-foot-tall Mitra robot was first showing off at India’s 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, where it greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The robot is designed for the service industry, and can interact with customers as well as provide autonomous navigation.
Robostar is one of South Korea’s foremost industrial robots companies, and it has created a diverse range of robots that are designed for wide-scale manufacturing. Robostar recently announced a $48M investment from LG, which will see the electronics giant take a significant stake in the startup and collaborate with it on future products.
Singaporean startup Rotimatic distinguishes itself from the competition by being the world’s only fully automated kitchen robot that makes roti, a popular bread found throughout India and Southeast Asia (that also happens to be incredibly labor-intensive to cook). The startup recently raised $30M in Series C funding in a new investment round led by private equity fund Credence.
Rooted in a research team investigating deep learning at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, SenseTime earned early renown by occasionally beating Google and Facebook in image-recognition competitions. Rapidly expanding on the back of massive rounds of VC, it currently supplies face-recognition tech that the Chinese government plans to use to track citizens
through its network of 170 million CCTV cameras, and with which state-owned telecoms behemoth China Mobile will monitor its 300 million users. Banks, prisons, airports, police and retailers are already on the SenseTime client list; it may add autonomous driving and augmented reality to that roster soon.
Only two years old, this state-backed semiconductor and AI chip specialist has big ambitions. “We hope to take 30% market share of China’s high-performance smart chip market and to have 1 billion smart devices worldwide integrating our processors in three years’ time,” Chen Tianshi, one of its founding brothers, said recently. Optimized for deep learning capabilities, Cambricon chips are currently being slotted into Huawei smartphone products. If the company realizes its ambitions, it will help China achieve self-sufficiency in digital components and reduce dependency on imports.
Another facial-recognition giant, Guangzhou-based Cloudwalk started in business supplying technology to border-control agents. Now 24 Chinese provinces employ its public-security solutions – facial recognition terminals, scanning during door entry – and it has had particular success supplying software to the banking industry. It recently signed a deal to export its capabilities to Zimbabwe
, in order to build a national facial-recognition database; the first Chinese AI initiative in Africa. Pushing into new areas, like 3D face-scanning, should ensure it continues to fight its corner of the AI playing field.