Robot dog maker Weilan enters uncharted waters with foray into consumer market

It's unclear whether the mass-market positioning of Weilan's products will appeal to an adequate number of consumers, many of whom tend to give cold shoulder to unpractical yet expensive gadgets.

BabyAlpha, a consumer-grade robot dog developed by Weilan (蔚蓝科技), a quadruped robot startup, rolled off the production line and became available for sale on November 24.

The contraption, about the size of a real dog, took five years for the Nanjing-based company to bring it from a few design sketches into life.

Before it became a real product, the device went through six iterations, the firm said.

cnrobopedia reported in August this year that the startup bagged more than 100 million yuan (US$14 million) in a Series A1 round, with the proceeds to be used for financing mass production.

It claims its iconic product BabyAlpha, a cartoonish-looking legged robot, is the world’s “first quadruped robot” built to the same standards as those applying to iPhone.

At the conference on November 24 marking the rolling of BabyAlpha off the production line, Weilan put a couple of the gadgets through their paces, as they interacted with guests, many of them parents with children.

According to Weilan, this robot canine can be deployed to a home scenario for a suite of use cases, such as companionship, education, entertainment, security and intelligent housekeeping.

It comes with a chatbot tool to converse with users, although the firm didn’t disclose if this function is powered by a domestic large language model.

“It’s more than a product; in effect, it is a form of education and culture, inspiring children to be the first AI generation,” Weilan said in an official WeChat post.

“They will learn more knowledge and skills, become trendsetters in AI, propel innovation and development in the AI era, and evolve into pioneers to shape future lifestyles.”

Despite its own hype, the challenges that lie ahead for Weilan are enormous.

It is one of the few domestic quadruped manufacturers with a fixation on supplying household-oriented consumer-grade products.

Most competitors, like DEEP Robotics (云深处科技) and Unitree (宇树科技), either focus on industrial applications or cater primarily to developers with experience in programming. They have reaped successes to varying degrees thanks to their market-proven product and technical strategies.

It’s unclear whether the mass-market positioning of Weilan’s products will appeal to an adequate number of consumers, many of whom tend to give cold shoulder to unpractical yet expensive gadgets.

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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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