Established in 2016, Unitree Robotics (Chinese: 宇树科技) has emerged as a prominent player in the robotics domain, committed to advancing the research, design, manufacturing, and distribution of cutting-edge quadruped robots for both consumer and industrial applications, alongside agile robotic arms.
In an exclusive interview, EqualOcean had the privilege of engaging in an in-depth conversation with the company's founder and CEO, Wang Xingxing, to explore the story behind the company and its future vision.
The Origin of the Brand: A Fusion of Technology and Dreams
Wang Xingxing's dream of technology was rooted in his childhood. From a young age, he was passionate about various tech products, ranging from aircraft to model airplanes, from battery chemistry experiments to biology. This passion led him to choose robotics as his future direction, with the hope of advancing society and human happiness through technology.
Hence, the original name of his company was "Technology Tree (Chinese: 科技树)," symbolizing the power of technology. However, considering practical factors such as trademarks and domain names, he chose the English name "UNICORN," representing unique dreams and technological miracles. Eventually, the company's name evolved into "Unitree," blending "universal" and "tree," signifying the vision of making technology universal.
Soon, Unitree Robotics made a mark in the global robotics industry, with competitive advantages stemming from various aspects. The company independently develops core robot components, including motors, reducers, controllers, and the majority of sensors, amassing the most domestic patents related to quadruped robots, with over 100 patent applications and more than 80 authorized patents.
Furthermore, Unitree Robotics continuously innovates its products, encompassing hardware, software, and structural innovations to maintain the technological edge of its products. Moreover, the company possesses a leading advantage in the industry due to its sustained focus on this field, accumulating rich experience and specialized knowledge.
Lastly, the company's brand influence, scale, financing capabilities, cash reserves, and workforce all contribute to its competitive advantage. These combined elements collectively establish Unitree Robotics as a dominant presence in the robotics industry.
Product Deployment: Meeting Diverse Needs Across Multiple Scenarios
Unitree Robotics' products are divided into three major markets: consumer, research and education, and industrial deployment. In the consumer market, products can be put to use within minutes of purchase, rapidly meeting user needs. In the research and education market, users may require several hours or a day or two to get started. For the industrial deployment market, the deployment time is longer, varying due to different project natures, ranging from several days to weeks.
The application fields in the industrial deployment market are extensive, including tasks like power grid inspection, power plants, and chemical factories. These applications encompass both general inspection tasks and specialized applications, such as fire reconnaissance.
Wang Xingxing notes that the robotics industry is experiencing continuous growth. Both the consumer and industrial markets are expanding year by year, with the consumer market primarily attracting tech enthusiasts and young males. Unitree Robotics' products not only offer a competitive price-performance ratio but also lead in terms of performance, thus drawing a large audience of tech and robotics enthusiasts.
On the industrial front, the application areas for quadruped robots will continue to expand. Besides power grid inspection and specialized applications, future applications may encompass more domains, especially those requiring digital and automated solutions.
Regarding pricing strategy, Wang Xingxing mentions that their prices depend on different customers and application scenarios. In the consumer market, they offer relatively low-priced products to meet a broader range of demands. In the industrial market, prices may be higher due to differing industry attributes and requirements. Their goal is to ensure product prices remain competitive while maintaining reasonable profit margins. Wang Xingxing also points out that, as technology advances, the cost of quadruped robots will continue to decrease, making it more attractive for businesses to use robots rather than traditional labor. However, maintenance and service in the industrial market remain significant considerations.
Technical Innovation and Reliability
Unitree Robotics' uniqueness in technology lies in its almost entirely self-developed components, including motors, reducers, controllers, and even algorithms. This enables them to maintain strict control over product quality and performance while continuously innovating to provide better solutions. When discussing challenges faced during the research and development process, Wang Xingxing mentions that robotics is an extremely complex field with difficulties in various areas. He points out that challenges exist in multiple domains, from fundamental hardware to control software, SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Nevertheless, he also emphasizes that these challenges are surmountable.
He provides a specific example of the latency issue in human-machine interaction. While information exchange is instant when interacting with humans, robotics currently experiences significant delays due to processes like speech recognition, data transmission, and large-scale model processing, leading to comparatively longer execution times for robot commands. They are working on optimizing this process, aiming to keep latency within 0.5 to 1 second to provide a better user experience.
In terms of fault tolerance and endurance of robots, Wang Xingxing emphasizes the distinctions inherent in various usage scenarios. He notes that, for consumer products, it's essential to ensure an average fault tolerance rate of at least one year or even longer. In industrial scenarios such as inspection and specialized applications, given the more complex requirements for robot usage environments and functions, it is necessary to ensure at least several months of trouble-free operation. Furthermore, Unitree Robotics remains committed to enhancing the endurance of its products, enabling them to work for approximately 2 to 4 hours to meet a wide range of application needs.
Expanding Internationally: The Emergence of Humanoid Robots
Regarding Unitree Robotics' international presence, Wang Xingxing emphasizes that the company has a substantial presence in international markets and ranks as the global leader in terms of shipments of quadruped robots. Moreover, Unitree Robotics aspires to establish itself as a prominent player in the field of humanoid robots globally, with strong confidence in achieving excellence in the coming year. Recently, the company introduced an impressive humanoid robot Unitree H1.
Wang Xingxing shares information about this product, stating that the company previously focused on quadruped robot development but began considering humanoid robot development as general artificial intelligence technology matured. He mentions that the design of humanoid robots is highly flexible, presenting technological challenges, but with the collective efforts of the team, they successfully developed this product.
Wang Xingxing emphasizes that this humanoid robot serves as a development platform, allowing researchers and AI companies to perform secondary development and software programming on it. This makes it a versatile tool with the potential to drive a broader range of applications.
lastly, Wang Xingxing also acknowledges that Chinese companies face challenges in international markets due to lower acceptance levels. Particularly, logistics is a significant challenge due to geographical factors, resulting in high logistics costs and longer delivery times.
Future Outlook: Robotics and AI Leading Economic Growth
In terms of future trends, Wang Xingxing emphasizes the importance of artificial intelligence (AI). He believes that AI technology will drive the growth of the robotics field and is the most significant variable for the future. By integrating AI technology, robots can better understand human language and needs, execute tasks, and offer more functionalities. Unitree Robotics has already equipped its products with large AI models, enabling robots to converse with users and perform tasks. However, he also notes that the application of AI technology requires thorough presetting and adaptation to different scenarios, with speech input and motion models being key technologies self-developed by Unitree Robotics.
Wang Xingxing states that robotics technology and artificial intelligence will be one of the most promising fields in the future, capable of driving economic growth. He believes that this will be the biggest opportunity for the younger generation because these fields are likely to create new economic growth opportunities. He encourages young people to actively explore the fields of robotics and AI, as the rapid development in these technological domains will provide them with vast career prospects.