Cease-fire! Yunji and Pudu ink deal to work on shared service robot standards

Tales abound of maneuvers and shenanigans to undercut the competition, sometimes involving two firms slugging it out in a nasty fight to sell to a budget hotel.

Yunji Technology (云迹科技) and Pudu Robotics (普渡科技), two leading commercial robot developers in China, surprised the industry by striking an agreement of collaboration on January 24.

The news sent shockwaves through China’s robot circles as the firms both manufacture primarily cleaning and delivery robots and are highly overlapped in their application scenarios.

According to the agreement between these two rivals, they decided to bury their hatchet and join forces on a range of issues, in particular, building shared protocol and standards for commercial service robotics.

Under the arrangement, the two companies will construct an open IoT platform that enables elevator controllers to coordinate the movement of mobile service robots from different suppliers.

Traditionally, this has been tricky as each brand of robot is reliant on its unique IoT modules and protocol to interface with elevator controllers.

This pushes up maintenance costs and increases the difficulty for deployment in buildings where a motley fleet of robots roam the same space.

Changes are afoot after Yunji and Pudu said that they will open elevator controller modules and protocol to each other — and even to third-party providers of mobile robots — “no matter who deploys first.”

The ultimate goal is to “benefit more end-users,” the agreement says.

From antagonism to coexistence

In this case, robots from different brands can work together without competing or colliding into each other when deployed to the same spot.

Until recently, service robots from different vendors that opt for different technical routes often could not co-exist.

China’s commercial service robot market has been characterized by cut-throat competition as the top players Pudu, Keenon Robotics (擎朗智能), Yunji and Orion Star (猎户星空) are locked in a brutal rivalry for market share.

Tales abound of maneuvers and shenanigans to undercut the competition, sometimes involving two firms slugging it out in a nasty fight to sell to a budget hotel.

It’s unclear how Pudu’s main opponent Keenon will perceive and respond to the truce between its two arch rivals.

Chinese media, however, have hailed the new alliance between Yunji and Pudu, saying it fosters the “healthy” growth of the industry and staves off vicious competition.

According to a story by Xinhua, a state-run news agency, Yunji and Pudu drew upon their original research and accumulated expertise, to roll out a shared robot dispatch system.

Under this system, robots can recognize and coordinate with each other to optimize efficiency, the story says.

Aside from sharing their respective IoT elevator controller modules, the two companies also pledged cooperation more broadly, touching upon the need to break information silos, integrate application scenarios and enlarge supply networks.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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