Shenzhen mech robot start-up wants to take us back to the good old days when robots were fun toys
GJS is making robots for hobbyists but also hoping to capitalise on educational market
While robots have been evolving to be of more use in people’s daily lives – from helping with household chores to making production lines more efficient – the founders of Shenzhen-based GJS Robot want to take us back to the days when they were purely fun, childhood toys.
GJS Robot, established in 2015, is the start-up behind app-controlled fighting bots Ganker and GEIO, which are equipped with sensors that can detect attacks and keep account of “bloods”, or the score, within the app controlling the robot.
Ganker, GJS Robot’s first product released in 2016, is a small fighting robot around 20 cm tall. The metal-framed humanoid robot can engage in hand-to-hand combat with a sword and other weapons. Its latest robot GEIO, released in 2017, is a first-person shooter for combat and racing, equipped with a camera that can recognise and track the face of the player controlling the robot, and its combat rivals as well.
The company is currently developing a third robot with upgraded features and game play, expected to be launched later this year or early next.
“We positioned ourselves in the entertainment robot market because we wanted to come back to the most primal demand of consumption, which is fun,” said Li Zhaohong, co-founder and chief technology officer of GJS Robot. “Robots don’t always have to be this grand concept that serves people or cures diseases.”
Li added that thus far, service robots haven’t had a substantial impact on people’s everyday lives, except for the robotic vacuum cleaners that have gained popularity in recent years.
While the company initially designed Ganker for hobbyists, they noticed growing demand from families and the education market, and have started working with educational institutes to modify the robots so that they can be used as a tool to teach kids the basics of coding – in this case, programming to control the movement of the robots.
The global market for educational service robots and robotic kits will surpass US$11.1 billion in 2021, according to a 2016 white paper published by the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University. Entertainment and leisure robots, including toy robots, are expected to reach a sales volume of 10.5 million units with a value of US$7.5 billion between 2018 and 2020, according to a 2017 report by the International Federation of Robotics.
Li admitted that fighting robots currently have a bigger audience abroad than in the domestic market in China, and that the US takes up the majority of sales for Ganker while China only accounts for 30 per cent, without disclosing exact sales figures. The US market has a strong robot culture rooted in long running robot-fighting shows such as BattleBots, while robot culture in the Chinese market is still in a nascent stage.
However, a series of China robot variety shows aired in early 2018 – including the Clash Bots that GJS appeared in – are starting to open up the robotics world to a mass population, Li said.
Li came from a traditional industry prior to joining the tech world. He was in the wood business for over three years in his hometown of Foshan, a Guangdong city known for its established furniture industry, before he sold his wood factory in 2013 to start a used car dealing website, before later moving to Shenzhen in 2015 to start a smart devices company.
In the tech hub of Shenzhen, Li met mech robot enthusiast Zhao Jianjun who is also a Foshan native. Zhao’s passion for robots inspired Li and the duo teamed up together with Cai Feng, another co-founder of GJS Robot, to make fighting robots. The company is now 50-strong with over 30 engineers working on design and research and development.
GJS Robot sealed its Series A fundraising round with Chinese internet giant Tencent for an “eight-digit” yuan amount last year, according to the company, following its angel round backed by Beijing-based Unity Ventures and a pre-A round backed by Shanghai-based Volcanics Venture.