SHENZHEN, China, January 8, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — In 2012, Zhou Jian decided to sell all the shares he held in existing companies and to mortgage his luxurious house in order to launch a new venture. Then he travelled around looking for partners congenial to his ambition before finally inviting leading figures in the industry to join him. After the original conceptual model was established in 2013, he launched a mature product, a smart humanoid robot comparable with any leading edge technology product in the international scene. This attracted the attention of several international high-tech companies, as well as some international high-tech Venture Capital firms. In 2014, while the Chinese market for intelligent humanoid robots was yet to be developed, his business began to blossom, with his company taking almost 50% of market share in the intelligent humanoid service robot industry. Zhou Jian, known as the "father of robots" in China, was the focus of attention in the Science & Technology VC circle in 2014. And the company he established, UBTECH, proved to be the hottest robot manufacturer, with an estimated value of billions of US dollars.
"The First Person to Eat Crab"
Everyone has ambitions, but not everyone has the resolution to actually fulfill their dreams. The turbulent global robot market, in particular, was both a new start and a challenge for Zhou Jian, who had been cherishing the robot dream since childhood.
With an ancestral home in Zhejiang Province, Zhou Jian was born in Shanghai and he demonstrated a "never-say-die" spirit even as a little boy. In college, he was a paragon of virtue and learning. He graduated with high academic scores and, unsurprisingly, landed a job at Weinig Group, a German listed company. After four years of service with Weinig, he became their youngest China Regional Manager because of his extraordinary ability and outstanding performance. However, he left this big company without hesitation in order to realize the dream of launching his own business. With savings of only one to two hundred thousand RMB (about USD$20,000), he put it all on starting his very first venture. By 2009 he had established several factories and technology companies in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Shanghai with fixed assets worth tens of millions in RMB (millions in USD) and an annual profit of over ten million RMB (several millions in USD).
During a business trip to Japan in 2009, Zhou Jian happened to see the new generation smart humanoid robots made by the well-known Honda Company. This stirred the enthusiasm for robots that he had had since childhood. Upon his return to China, he immediately conducted market surveys and analysis, and found that the commercialized smart robot market in China was still in virgin territory. After thorough investigation, he finally decided to take the route of commercializing smart home robots. Despite all the objections, he acted decisively to set up a team and then invest all his funds in research and development, establishing the UBTECH Company. His parents, shareholders and friends all tried to persuade him not to get involved in this high-risk industry with such an uncertain market outlook. Pieces of advice such as, "It is not wise to be the first person to eat crab," or, "Why not buy several houses for hedging," came one after another. Nevertheless, he was unwavering in his resolution. In his view, robots have a wide range of applications, from standing on production lines to even investigating Mars. They are also able to work with doctors to complete surgeries with their unparalleled precision, and to help monitor patients with inexhaustible patience. Moreover, in the future, robots will bring about more changes in space exploration, medical care, disaster relief and auto engineering. Zhou Jian is deeply convinced that robots will change the world one day, and that the robot market will be the mainstream of future science and technology.
Zhou’s Crazy Reactions to Crisis
In the following days, the prophecies made by his friends and families seemed to come true. The development of the smart robot concept encountered countless technical bottlenecks and obstacles. Yet the worst part was that there seemed to be no end to the capital investment black hole. As the planned investment of RMB 20 million (about USD$400 million) was running out, the pressure from his partners and parents was increasing. But Zhou Jian knew that there was still hope, while giving up would mean failure. After a great internal struggle, he made a decision which startled everyone – he divested all the shares he held in the Hong Kong and Shanghai factories, and sold two luxurious houses each worth RMB 10 million in Shenzhen as well as his beloved Porsche and BMW cars to raise funds. When his retiree parents felt he would not listen to them, they got so angry that they left Shenzhen. Many of his friends thought he had gone too far, first quitting his high-paying job and then giving up assets worth tens of millions. In their eyes, those were all insane and irrational decisions. Recalling this period, Zhou Jian quipped: "As the old saying goes,’Examine yourself three times a day.’ But they were thinking that I go crazy three times a day so they gave me the nickname Zhou Sanfeng (literally Zhou ‘Go crazy three times‘)".
Zhou Jian, father of robots in China, gives birth to his first "baby"
God helps those who help themselves. Five years later, in 2013, after tackling countless technical problems with hardware and software, China’s first smart humanoid robot, "Alpha", came into being. Designed to look fashionable, it combines function and appearance. Its vivid and attractive appearance rivals even the smart robot Krima used by Tokyo in its bid for the Olympic Games in 2013. "Alpha" is a smart humanoid robot which integrates entertainment, education and service. Its greatest feature is the digital servos and special 3D visual motion programming software and graphic motion programming software, which have been awarded national invention patents and patented software copyrights. It is very easy even for an ordinary person to learn to use. This, to a large extent, lowers the bar for users and meets the needs of users of varying levels. "Alpha" was a great step forward for Zhou Jian in realizing his dream.
Upgrading the Products to Respond to New Challenges
The first generation "Alpha" was well received in the marketplace. It was very popular among spectators and customers at the 2013 China Hi-Tech Communication Conference in Shenzhen. Many well-known domestic media outlets such as CCTV and Phoenix TV, as well as first-line media from Europe and America, were eager to cover it. Yet Zhou Jian was still not satisfied. He longed for more breakthroughs in robot technologies. At the beginning of 2013, he had started leading his team in the development of a second generation "Alpha" smart humanoid robot. This is a revolutionary landmark product which can freely imitate human skeleton and body motions. With nimble fingers and joints, it can grab things as human beings do. For the first time, robots are commercialized as mobile terminals providing smart services, and free human-machine dialogue anytime and anywhere is realized. With smart functions such as a built-in android system, intelligent Cloud voice searching, and long-distance video surveillance with no blind spots, robots are becoming human beings’ true companions in both life and work. Moreover, the development of the layout from PC terminals to mobile terminals, and from mobile terminals eventually to smart robot terminals is gradually taking shape. In early 2015, Zhou Jian and his R&D team will unveil their latest product at CES in Las Vegas.
Science and technology is the foundation of a nation’s prosperity. From ancient times it has promoted the progress of human society with an irresistible and irreversible power. Under the favorable environment created by and with the strong support of the central government, UBTECH is developing into a high-tech enterprise representing China in the field of manufacturing smart humanoid robots.
In an interview, Zhou Jian once said: "Make Your Own Robot. It is my dream that every common household could have their own talking, walking, interactive smart robot." He hopes that his robots will be found in common households. In the future, UBTECH will lay out channels on a global scale and establish its own flagship experience stores. Meanwhile, it will not only strengthen cross-discipline collaborations with auto, entertainment and catering industries, but also integrate the concepts of smart homes and wise cities so as to bring people a truly smarter and more technological lifestyle.
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