Lai Jie, an engineer who was the first employee at Tencent’s Robotics X Lab, quit the giant last year to start a bionic robot company together with a handful of colleagues, Chinese media reported today.
Online media outlet Liangziwei learned that the firm, named Xing Chen Zhi Neng, literally stardust intelligence, started out making wheeled robot with humanoids mounted on top.
Founded in December last year, the Shenzhen-based startup comprises six core members, who have the same background as Robotics X engineers.
According to media reports, the new startup’s bionic robots will be mainly catering to research and education purposes.
Lai, founder and CEO of Xing Chen Zhi Neng, left the academia to join Baidu’s robotic arm in 2014. He later became the director of the internet search titan’s AI smart speaker operation.
He jumped ship to start anew at Tencent in 2018, when the social media and online gaming heavyweight established the Robotics X lab.
Robotics X, alongside AI Lab, became the two pillars of Tencent’s relatively smaller AI business compared to peers like Alibaba, Baidu and Huawei.
Notably, Lai was the first employee at Robotics X and has since led the affiliate’s efforts in robotic research and development.
Another co-founder of the new startup is Dai Yuan, who is also an alumnae of the Tencent robot lab.
She graduated with a bachelor’s from University of Illinoise Urbana-Champaign, followed by a doctorate from UCLA.
Like Lai, she joined Robotics X right after its inception in 2018.
It’s unclear how their departure from Tencent will mean for its project.
Industry observers approached by Liangziwei, the digital media outlet, said that these core members chose to part ways with Robotics X over the desire to commercialize its robotics technologies.
Public records show that during Lai’s stint at Robotics X, he was responsible for the development of self-balancing wheeled robot and wheeled/legged robot called Ollie.
To date, Robotics X has rolled out four robotic prototypes, including the two projects Lai oversaw, a multi-modal quadruped and tactile actuators.
cnrobopedia reported in June that Tencent released an upgraded version of its robot dog Max, designed to imitate the gaits and movements of a real dog, including walk, sprint, jump and stand — all bearing striking similarities to the creature.
However, Tencent has never disclosed any concrete plan to monetize its advances in robotics technologies.
Media reports said that the new startup founded by the Tencent alumni looks to partner with AI firms to introduce a prototpe within this year.
After realizing this primary goal, the company will proceed to commercialize its know-how in a variety of areas, such as commercial cleaning, new retail and sorting.
China’s tech community has banked on faster growth of the robotic space since August, when a number of local startups released their humanoid robots, as part of their efforts to move closer toward the vision of “embodied AI.”