Changyao Innovation (长曜创新), a startup developing lawn mowing robots, has secured tens of million of yuan in an angel round of funding from a consortium of investors, 36kr, a Chinese tech media outlet, reported today.
The consortium was led by Oriental Fortune Capital, Blue Power Capital, Hypercycle Venture, Brizan Ventures and angel investor Cheng Xiaohua.
A number of angel investors, some of them existing shareholders who poured money during the seed round, also participated in the deal.
Proceeds from this round will be used to accelerate production development and team expansion.
Founded in 2022, Changyao Innovation (hereafter referred to in pinyin spelling as Changyao, for want of an official English name) is dedicated to manufacturing robotic lawn mowers, with an aim to automate the full process of lawn maintenance.
Most of the demand for automated lawn mowing robots orginates from overseas markets. According to market intelligence, private lawns and gardens number some 250 million across the globe, requiring eight months of upkeep a year.
A fraction of lawn mowing equipment
In the United States, however, the share of robotic mowers accounted for less than 1% of the lawn maintenance equipment sold. In 2022 alone, lawn care and service market was valued at US$60 billion, while mowing robots only reached a worth of US$700 million.
Lured by the market prospects, a host of players have crowded into this blue-sea segment.
Changyao tries to set itself apart from industry peers with a unique suite of solutions. “Lawns in Western countries are varied, entailing different solutions for different scenarios,” said Hu Yue, founder and CEO of Changyao. “A one-size-fits-all approach to navigation and sensing won’t work.”
Convinced that technologies are there to meet user needs, rather than be made to look fancy, Hu and his co-workers set sights on knowing different customer needs and their price expectations.
They ended up with a fixation on the “largest common denominator” to roll out a product prototype that exactly satisfies that group of consumers.
“We look to optimize the user experience and a cost-down approach,” said Hu. “Adding layer after layer of functions to please everyone is a dead-end.”
Different technical routes
Aside from acting upon customer insights, Changyao also differentiates itself with the technologies used in lawn mowing robots.
Unlike some counterparts who employ ultra-wideband (UWB), real-time kinematic (RTK), laser-guided SLAM and visual SLAM, the Shenzhen-based startup resolves to equips its gadgets with visual positioning and navigation to become applicable in all types of lawns.
Of these technologies, RTK is used to enhance the precision of position data derived from satellite-based positioning systems. UWB is one of the most common and low-cost positioning technologies to determine the relative position of a target object.
Product-wise, Changyao’s robots stand out for a mixture of what it touts as “scenario-specific pure visual positioning and sensing technologies.”
Based on visual positioning and sensing, its robots are able to map out a work area on its own, traverse multiple sections of a lawn, detect and avoid obstacles and return to docking stations to be recharged.
Changyao said its devices can achieve full autonomy in planning and performing tasks, devoid of human intervention such as installation of pre-laid guide wire, RTK base stations and remote-controlled mapping services.
The company added its technologies could solve long-tail issues, helping the robot find its way when it loses RTK signals due to obstacles or fails to recognize white walls, a large stretch of lawn and shaded areas.
Long-tail demands, blue-sea market
Unlike any open-source solution, Changyao can make targeted adjustments to these long-tail issues.
The firm is also aware of the need to integrate functions in traditional handheld mowers to complete a so-called “closed loop” of use cases.
These functions include removing shredded grass and sweeping close to the fringe of lawns. “This is to upgrade existing mowers technologically,” said Hu, the founder.
The startup plans to launch the world’s first “full-process” lawn mowing robot based on its AirPilot system. This is a self-developed pure visual positioning and navigation platform.
“Changyao is a technically leading product-oriented company, with rich experience in developing VIO visual navigation algorithms,” said Zhou Shaojun, a partner at Oriental Fortune Capital, the lead investor. “It brings autonomous driving technologies down to the level of robotic mowers.”
He added Changyao is an all-rounder in R&D, supply chain and marketing capacity, knows its customers’ needs and differentiates its product line.
“Intelligent lawn mowing robots have immense potential. Right now on the eve of massive adoption, we believe Changyao will seize the market opportunity to occupy a place in mowing and yard service robotics,” said Zhou.