Rokid May Lose The Consumer Market But We Could Expect More
COVID-19 and China
Advertising of Rokid in Time Square. Photo: Credited to Rokid

Things are always interesting and exciting when talking about human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. When I was young, I used to imagine that in the future I could control the electronic applications by speaking, and my “intelligent assistant” could arrange everything for me. This scene sounds like a scientific fantasy but with the development of the technology, Rokid (若琪) has make it possible in nowadays.

Letting Everyone Enjoy Science and Technology

Rokid is a technology enterprise focuses on the research and study of human-computer interaction technology, and the development of artificial intelligence hardware. Rokid’s mission is simple but great: letting everyone enjoy the science and technology. With this mission, Rokid tries its best to pursue the extreme quality and user-experience, introduces the new productions of artificial intelligence to more and more users. The name of the company, Rokid, refers to “robot” + “kid”, and the word “kid” means that the team of Rokid is made up with a group of kids who are curious about the world, and it also means that the artificial intelligence technology likes a kid who's still growing.

Founded in Jul 2014 by Misa, whose Chinese name is ZHU Mingming (祝铭明), Rokid has completed 4 rounds of financing almost USD 200 million.  Although Rokid is a 4-year-old boy, it has won several awards in CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and was selected as one of the 50 best artificial intelligence company by Forbes.

The main production of Rokid is the smart speaker. Rokid PEBBLE, is a high-quality speaker for the whole family. The shape of PEBBLE was inspired by pebbles in nature, which let it win the red dot design award in 2017.  PEBBLE support the smart voice control, you can turn it on by simply saying “ruoqi”, which is a two-syllable wake-up word that in line with the way Chinese people speak. In addition to playing the voice-content such as music and story, PEBBLE could also control other smart devices. Currently, there are more than 40 brands and more than 100 devices could be controlled by PEBBLE. With voice commands, you could ask PEBBLE to turn on the smart TV, cleaning robot and lamp. PEBBLE has cooperation with QQ Music and Ximalaya, according to Rokid, there are more than 17 million songs from QQ Music and 100 million audio books and programs from Ximalaya, which offers an abundant content resources for users.

In Jun 26, 2018, Rokid held its conference, the Rokid Jungle. 3 new productions are released in this conference including the mini smart speaker, Rokid Me, the AI chip, KAMINO 18, and the AR glass Rokid Glass. As a portable smart speaker, Rokid Me could last 8 hours for continuous use, and weights only 400g, the same weight as a can coke. Rokid Me is equipped with 360° stereo-surround sound sonic satisfaction from any direction, and we can use voice to control it while playing the music.

The KAMINO 18 is an artificial intelligence voice chip which developed solely by Rokid. The size of KAMINO 18 is close to a 1 Yuan coin, and has features such as low cost, low power consumption and high-level integration. Currently, KAMINO 18 cooperated with the Xiaoya Mina, a smart speaker of Ximalaya. In the future, KAMINO would support the Alexa of Amazon. As a core of a technology production, the chip is the essential one for intelligent devices. The self-developed chip shows Rokid’s ambition in the R&D field. According to the founder and CEO of Rokid, Misa, the number of orders of KAMINO are several millions, and KAMINO is a chip in mass production.

Besides, Rokid released its AR glass, the Rokid Glass. The concept model of Rokid Glass was firstly released on the CES held in Jan 2018, and in the Rokid Jungle held in Jun 2018, the massive-production version of Rokid glass was released. The Rokid AR glass has the advanced functions such as face recognition, item recognition, indoor navigation and voice recognition. According to JIANG Gonglue (姜公略), who’s in charge of the R&D center of Rokid in U.S, the AR glass has a high light efficiency and provides HD pictures and cameras with 13 million pixels. JIANG said that in the fourth quarter of 2018, the AR Glass would achieve massive production.

Commercialization: Still Needs Observation

One of a very important field that the AR glass can be used is the security industry. Currently, Rokid is cooperating with the police offices in more than 10 provinces. The police institutions could use the AR Glass to achieve face recognition, license plate recognition, and video-taking. Besides, Rokid also received orders from Zhejiang University, and even built a joint-lab with it to popularize the application of AR glass in educational field.

On the other hand, the KAMINO 18 chip has received orders and began to make money. Its main customers include 360 and Ximalaya.Although Rokid announced that they have received orders of its KAMINO chip, we still need to follow that.

In terms of the speaker, Rokid is cooperating with the telecom operators such as China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. By cooperating with them, Rokid produces the smart speakers with the brand of operators. Rokid Panda is a specially designed smart speaker which Rokid produces for the operators. In Sichuan Province, the sales volume of Rokid Panda exceeds those of Xiaoai (小爱), which is Xiaomi’s smart speaker.

On the other hand, the performance of Rokid's sales volume in the consumer side is not as ideal as we expected. Rokid banned its high-end smart speaker, Rokid Alien, which may because of its bad market performance. Plus, the sales volume of Rokid in is not good as well, comparing with the smart speakers with lower price, for example, the Xiaoai and Tmall Jingling. It takes time and patience to observe whether Rokid could success in its commercialization.

Financing History: On Its Way to Be A Unicorn

In Aug 2014, Rokid received its angel round of financing from Mfund, Yuanjing Capital, Linear Venture and IDG Capital. In Jan 2018, Rokid completed its C round funding with USD 100 million. After this round of financing, Rokid has a valuation of USD 1 billion and became a unicorn of artificial intelligence. Temasek led this round of funding and other famous investors, such as CDIB, IDG Capital and Credit Suisse followed.

According to the PR director of Rokid, YU Xiaowei (于小薇), Rokid wants to have a deeper understanding of the investment institutions but also wants to talk with PE/VC investors who have professional knowledge of artificial intelligence. The financing would be easier if the investor could understand the business model and technology achievements of Rokid. However, with the endorsement of the famous investment institutions such as IDG capital, Credit Suisse, Rokid does not have many difficulties in financing. As an AI company which focuses on the human-computer interaction, Rokid would use the money to better its developing skills, especially in the operating system and chips.

Team of Rokid: A Group of Unnormal Programmers

Misa, the founder and CEO of Rokid, is a man with long hair and long beard. As a crazy motorbike lover and an owner of a café, Misa is totally distinct from the traditional programmers. Misa used to be the founder of Mengma Technology, which was acquired by Alibaba. After that, Misa worked in Alibaba as the chief leader of M workshop, and is responsible for the development of deep learning, visual and voice recognition.

Many people have stereotypes of the programmers. For example, these “code farmers” are always being boring, wooden, and have a low emotional intelligence. They only wear plaid shirts and a backpack and have no sense about fashion. But the team of Rokid are totally different. Misa loves doing carpenter after work. He even owns a carpentering room in his house. According to Misa, programming is kind of like art, both pursue the extreme perfect. Max, who’s an experienced programmer, also loves skiing and runs 2 board-game stores. Xuchao, the production manager of Rokid, loves playing music and he even make up a band with 3 programmers.

According to Xiaowei, there are about 400 people in Rokid. In U.S., Rokid has a lab made up with 40 elites from Harvard, UC Berkeley, Microsoft and Google, and all of them are in charge of research and development issues. In Beijing, Rokid has a team with 40 people who from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and they would input in the developing of chips and smart speakers. In the headquarter of Rokid, Hangzhou, the team is about 200 people, half of them are in charge of sales and the other are responsible for technology developing. Rokid also has teams in Shenzhen and Chengdu. Generally, the people who are in charge of R&D are about 50% in Rokid, which makes it a technology- company.

Strategies for Future: More than A Speaker Maker

Before the foundation of Rokid, Misa founded another tech company – Mengma Technology, a company mainly focus on the development of operation system. Afterwards, Mengma Technology was acquired by Alibaba and became the embryonic form of its Yun OS. According to YU Xiaowei, since Rokid is a human-computer interaction company with OS-genes, it has the responsibility to be the explorer of the national-made OS. The vice president of the developing center of Rokid, XIANG Wenjie (向文杰), also says that “The reason why we make operating system is that Rokid wants to lower the entrance requirement of the development of AI productions, just like Google made the Android system. Rokid wants to make the operating system as the infrastructure of the AI industry.” Currently, the Yoda OS, which is the operating system developed by Rokid, has published. The developers are free to use this OS to develop the AI productions. With the open-source community, programmers could communicate with each other and promote the developing level together. However, whether this kind of OS could commercialize is unknown.

Although its market performance in consumer side is not as ideal as we expect, Rokid shows its ambition in operating system developing and chips developing, which may bring new ideas and konwledge to the artificial intelligence industry. The artificial intelligence would keep being a popular topic in the next 10 years, and our lives would be changed greatly with the development of AI technology. We have confidence in Rokid and we expect a better future of this company.

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