Why Tencent led a USD 820M funding round for AI-robotics startup Ubtech

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While much has been made of the potential military applications of AI and robotics, there are also widespread opportunities for normal consumers to make use of these cutting-edge technologies. While the world is debating how the U.S. and China will try to outsmart each other in AI and robotic programing, Shenzhen-based humanoid robot maker Ubtech Robotics closed a Series C funding round of USD 820 million, led by Tencent Holdings, on May 3.

According to the company, this Tencent-led deal not only values Ubtech Robotics at USD 5 billion, but also set a new record as the single largest-ever funding round for a Chinese AI company. Other investors include Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Minsheng Securities, Australian telecommunications and media firm Telstra Corporation, electronics firm Haier Group, Green Pine Capital Partners, CreditEase, existing investor CDH Investments, and others.

Founded in 2012 by James Zhou, Ubtech Robotics claims to be the first Chinese company to dedicate itself to commercializing humanoid robots. The company will invest the newly raised capital in R&D, market and brand expansion, as well as talent acquisition.

Ubtech’s previous product, Alpha IS, showcased during CCTV’s 2016 Spring Festival Gala, set the Guinness World Record for ‘most robots dancing simultaneously.’ Apart from the Alpha series, Ubtech has also introduced child-friendly STEM educational robot Jimu, cloud-based robot Cruzr, and various other products.

Though last year’s investment portfolio accentuated Tencent’s primary interest in cultural and entertainment programs, it ought to be mentioned that the company is gradually pushing into the emerging AI market.

Back in November, Tencent reportedly poured USD 40 million into Ubtech. The two parties have since jointly launched two educational robotss: Tencent voice assistants, Xiaowei and Dingdang.

Previously, Tencent also invested in U.S. robot maker Marble and Canadian robot developer Kindred Systems. Both companies specialize in logistics robots.

This March, Tencent launched its robot laboratory “Robotics X” in Shenzhen, along with the motto “Make AI Everywhere.” On the same day, the company agreed to strategically cooperate with Springer Nature’s subsidiary, Nature Research, to promote interdisciplinary research in AI & Medical. Last year, Tencent declared its interest in AI’s medical potential by launching an AI-powered diagnostic medical imaging service called AIMIS.

There is no doubt that the AI-robotics sector is rapidly expanding, as Shanghai-based technology-focused content provider TheMakers recently secured USD 3.14 million in a Series Pre-B round led by Qiming Ventures Partners. TheMakers not only created China’s first robot combat shows, King of Bots and This Is Fight Robots, in early 2018, but also developed offline robot battle tournaments last year.

(Top photo from google.com)

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