Tesla’s Chinese challenger, Xpeng, isn’t just making electric vehicles. It is also betting on robot unicorns to ride for children.
Xpeng Robotics, a bionic robot maker affiliated with Xpeng, has just raised an impressive $100 million in a Series A funding round led by IDG Capital, at a time when venture capital investment slows in China.
Other investors include Xpeng itself and some undisclosed backers. It is unclear what control Xpeng has over Xpeng Robotics after the final round. But given their shared brand association, it will come as no surprise that the two companies are closely tied, at least on the development front. Technologies such as autonomous driving that Xpeng is working on are easily applicable to the robot sector.
Indeed, as Xpeng Chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng said in a statement:
“I also believe that in the future, smart car makers will also be smart robot makers…As part of our mission as an innovator and technology explorer, we will continue to support Xpeng Robotics .”
Xpeng Robotics defines itself as an “ecosystem company” of Xpeng.
Founded in 2016, Xpeng Robotics’ first product is a quadruped robot capable of autonomous navigation and interaction with humans. In a 3D animated teaser revealed last September, the pony-like robot is seen nodding and blinking at a child – with the child then riding it. In other video shot in real life, the pony carries snacks around an office in response to voice commands and trails behind a human.
We’ve seen a variety of companion bots, like the ones based in Shenzhen Elephant Robotics’ cute little bionic cat, but few are the size of Xpeng Robotics’ pony, which is as tall as a child. One can imagine the R&D costs spent on finding a suitable product market for the quadruped robot and its operation.
After six years in business, Xpeng Robotics still hasn’t set a delivery date for its robots, despite stating in its Press release that he expects “intelligent robots to enter homes within the next two years”. The project is clearly not something that can be undertaken by a scruffy startup without the backing of a deep-pocketed patron.
The funding will allow Xpeng Robotics to deepen its R&D investments in robotics hardware and software, hire “top talent” and accelerate product development and iteration.
The startup is headquartered in the global hardware hub of Shenzhen, with R&D centers in Guangzhou, Beijing and Silicon Valley. It currently has more than 300 employees, 80% of whom work in R&D.