China-based logistics robot maker VisionNav raises $76M with $500M valuation – TechCrunch

Industrial robotics has in recent years become one of the hottest technology sectors in China as the country encourages the use of advanced technology to increase efficiency on the production floor.

VisionNav Robotics, which specializes in autonomous forklifts, forklifts and other logistics robots, is China’s latest industrial robot manufacturer to receive funding. Shenzhen-based automated guided vehicle (AGV) startup has snatched 500 million yuan (about US$76 million) from a Series C extension round led by China’s food delivery giant Meituan and 5Y Capital, an important venture capital firm in the country. Its existing investors IDG, ByteDance, parent company of TikTok, and Shunwei Capital, owned by Xiaomi founder Lei Jun, also participated in the round.

Founded in 2016 by a group of PhDs from the University of Tokyo and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, VisionNav’s valuation increased to more than $500 million in this round, up from $393 million just six months ago when it raised $300 million. million yuan (US$47 million). million) in a Series C financing, he told TechCrunch.

The new funding will allow VisionNav to invest in R&D and expand its use cases, expanding its focus on pan and tilt to other functions such as stacking and loading.

The key to adding new categories is training and improving the startup’s software algorithms, less developing new hardware, said the company’s vice president of global sales, Don Dong. “From tracking, shipping and detection, we will have to improve our software capabilities as a whole.”

A big challenge for robots, Dong said, is effectively perceiving and navigating the world around them. The problem with a self-driving camera solution like Tesla’s is that it can be easily affected by bright light. Lidar, a sensing technology heralded for its more accurate distance sensing, was still too expensive for mass adoption a few years ago, but has seen its price reduced substantially by Chinese players like DJI-affiliated Livox and Robosense.

“Before, we mainly provided in-house solutions. Now that we are expanding into unmanned truck loading, which is often semi outdoors, it is inevitable that we will operate in a lot of light. That’s why we’re adapting a combination of vision and radar technologies to navigate our robots,” said Dong.

VisionNav views Pittsburgh-based Seegrid and France-based Balyo as its international rivals, but believes it has a “price advantage” from being in China, which is home to its manufacturing and R&D activities. The startup is already shipping robots to customers in Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Netherlands, the UK and Hungary. It is in the process of creating subsidiaries in Europe and the USA.

The startup works with system integrators to sell its robots, meaning it doesn’t collect detailed customer information, simplifying data compliance in foreign markets. The expectation is to get 50-60% of its revenues abroad in the next few years, compared to the current share of 30-40%. The US is one of its main target markets, Dong said, as the forklift industry generates “higher gross revenue than China, despite having a smaller number of forklifts.”

Last year, VisionNav achieved total sales revenue between 200 million (US$31 million) and 250 million yuan (US$39 million). It currently operates a staff of around 400 people across China and is expected to reach 1,000 employees this year by aggressively hiring overseas.

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