China's Tesla challenger Xpeng isn't content with just making electric vehicles. It's also betting on ridable robot unicorns for kids.
Xpeng Robotics, a bionic robot maker affiliated with Xpeng, just raised an impressive $100 million in a Series A round led by IDG Capital, at a time when venture investments are slowing in China.
Other investors include Xpeng itself and some undisclosed backers. It's unclear how much control Xpeng has over Xpeng Robotics following the latest round. But given their shared brand association, it won't be surprising the two firms are closely tied up — at least on the development front. Technologies like autonomous driving that Xpeng has been working on are easily applicable to the robot business.
Indeed, as Xpeng's chairman and CEO He Xiaopeng said in a statement:
“I also believe that in the future, manufacturers of smart cars will also be manufacturers of smart robots… As part of our mission as a technology innovator and explorer, we will continue to provide support to Xpeng Robotics.”
Xpeng Robotics calls itself an “ecosystem company” of Xpeng.
Founded in 2016, Xpeng Robotics's first product is a quadruped robot that can navigate autonomously and interact with humans. In a 3D teaser revealed last September, the pony-like robot is seen nodding and blinking to a kid — and riding him around. In another video shot in real life, the pony is transporting snacks around an office in response to voice commands and trailing behind a human.
We've seen a variety of companion robots, like Shenzhen-based Elephant Robotics' cutesy bionic cat, but few are of the size of Xpeng Robotics's pony, which is as tall as a kid. One can imagine the R&D costs poured into finding a product-market fit for the quadruped robot and actually making it work.
Six years into operation, Xpeng Robotics still has not set a delivery date for its robots, though it said in its press release that it expects “intelligent robots to enter households in the next two years.” The project is clearly not something that can be undertaken by a scruffy startup without the backing from a deep-pocketed patron.
The funding will allow Xpeng Robotics to deepen its R&D investment in robotic hardware and software, hire “top-tier talent,” and accelerate product development and iteration.
The startup is headquartered in the global hardware hub Shenzhen with R&D centers in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Silicon Valley. It has over 300 employees to date, 80% of whom work in R&D.