Ro­bots be­gin the march into cam­puses

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

should make” make,” says Chang Chang, co­co­founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Shen­zhen-based startup Leju (Shen­zhen) Ro­bot­ics.

From the other side, the de­mand for ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots is in­creas­ing as a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese schools have adopted, or in­tend to add ro­bot­ics to their cur­ricu­lum.

“The mar­ket is go­ing to take off very soon. Those march­ing into the field early will stand to ben­e­fit. We’re de­ter­mined to grab the op­por­tu­nity and be­come an in­dus­try leader,” says the 29-yearold en­tre­pre­neur, who founded the com­pany in 2016.

Ae­los is pro­gram­mable. Move­ments, ob­sta­cle avoid­ance and other fea­tures of the robot can be achieved through chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming, help­ing them gain an un­der­stand­ing of how the ma­chine works and how they can con­trol it with their in­tel­li­gence.

The startup has also com­piled text­books to help teach­ers deal with their teach­ing, as most main­land teach­ers lack ex­pe­ri­ence in teach­ing ro­bot­ics be­cause there were no such classes in main­land schools be­fore.

So far, more than 300 schools in 17 prov­inces and cities across the coun­try have in­tro­duced the in­tel­li­gent robot into their ro­bot­ics classes, cov­er­ing nearly 300,000 stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to Chang.

The com­pany made its foray into the global mar­ket last year when Chang took his com­pany to the United States to take part in CES — one of the world’s largest tech­nol­ogy shows.

“Most of our over­seas cus­tomers come from the US and Europe, but we’re try­ing to ex­pand our pres­ence in the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion, which we see is grow­ing rapidly,” says Chang, ad­ding that rev­enue gen­er­ated from over­seas mar­kets ac­counts for up to roughly 20 per­cent of the com­pany’s to­tal at present.

In 2017, the 2-year-old startup cre­ated ap­prox­i­mately 50 mil­lion yuan (HK$57 mil­lion) in sales rev­enue. “We ex­pect the fig­ure to rise to be­tween 200 and 300 mil­lion yuan this year.”

Leju is among a num­ber of play­ers that have spot­ted the boom­ing in­dus­try’s great po­ten­tial amid grow­ing ed­u­ca­tion aware­ness and con­sump­tion up­grade, and are des­per­ate to grab a slice of the pie.

Among them are Ubtech and Make­block — two other Shen­zhen-based ro­bot­ics star­tups that are grow­ing at a fast speed.

To stand out from the crowd, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is vi­tal. Chang points out that one of Ae­los’s unique ad­van­tages is that it can move quicker than Ubtech’s ro­bots.

“More­over, dif­fer­ent from Make­block, which tar­gets younger chil­dren, our fo­cus is on elder stu­dents. We com­ple­ment Make­block prod­ucts as Ae­los pro­gram­ming is more com­pli­cated and re­quires deeper knowl­edge.”

Although the Chi­nese main­land is catch­ing up fast, the ed­u­ca­tional robot sec­tor is still be­ing dom­i­nated by de­vel­oped coun­tries. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Qianzhan In­dus­try Re­search In­sti­tute, in terms of the de­vel­op­ment of ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots, the US, Ger­many and France are among Western coun­tries that are lead­ing the pack while, in Asia, Ja­pan, South Korea and Sin­ga­pore are at the front.

The in­ter­na­tional mar­ket for ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots is grow­ing at a high speed, the re­port says. Its scale was around $2 bil­lion last year, but is ex­pected to hit $11.1 bil­lion by 2021.

The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots on the main­land shows STEM (science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, math­e­mat­ics) ed­u­ca­tion is gain­ing grow­ing recog­ni­tion from Chi­nese par­ents.

“Chi­nese stu­dents usu­ally do well in ba­sic sub­jects, such as math­e­mat­ics, physics and chem­istry. But when it comes to sub­jects that re­quire prob­lem­solv­ing abil­ity and cre­ativ­ity, they lag far be­hind their coun­ter­parts in the US,” says Wang Hui­juan, mother of a 6-year-old boy in Shen­zhen.

“Ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots can play the role of a teacher who cul­ti­vates stu­dents’ op­er­a­tional abil­ity by in­spir­ing them to think and op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently.”

In­vest­ments are pour­ing in to sup­port the in­dus­try’s growth. Leju se­cured 10 mil­lion yuan in angel in­vest­ment from Green Pine Cap­i­tal Part­ners in Fe­bru­ary 2016 — a month be­fore the com­pany was founded. In­ter­net gi­ant Ten­cent and lead­ing ven­ture cap­i­tal Shen­zhen Cap­i­tal Group later joined in.

“We’ve just closed our B-round fi­nanc­ing, with com­pany val­u­a­tion reach­ing 1 bil­lion yuan,” re­veals Chang.

Hav­ing gone through the dif­fi­cul­ties in fi­nanc­ing and mar­ket­ing, the en­tre­pre­neur feels the cur­rent chal­lenges fac­ing him are how to man­age the com­pany well and how to at­tract out­stand­ing tal­ent.

The com­pany is co­op­er­at­ing with sev­eral univer­si­ties in Shen­zhen to try to find out and cul­ti­vate promis­ing cam­pus tal­ent by spon­sor­ing clubs at univer­si­ties.

He’s adamant that tal­ent is key to suc­cess.

Chang Lin, co-founder and CEO of Leju (Shen­zhen) Ro­bot­ics

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