AIRSEEKERS Robotics Selected for 2023 Forbes China Globalization Innovators List

May 16 14:03 2024

Shenzhen-based startup Changyao Innovation, known for its brand AIRSEEKERS Robotics, has recently been selected for the 2023 Forbes China Globalization Innovators List. Specializing in intelligent lawn mowing robots, AIRSEEKERS Robotics has distinguished itself in the global market with its unique vision navigation technology and innovative product design. This achievement marks a significant milestone for the company in its international expansion and highlights the potential of Chinese enterprises in technological innovation and globalization.

Here is the detailed content:

In recent years, as China’s domestic economic growth has slowed, an increasing number of Chinese companies are venturing into overseas markets to tap into and meet the needs of global consumers. Some companies have quickly stood out in the crowded field of international expansion by leveraging their advantages in product offerings, technology, and business models.

For instance, Pinduoduo’s cross-border e-commerce platform, Temu, has swiftly captured the North American market with its low-priced products and social marketing tactics, at times surpassing the download volumes of stalwarts like Amazon. Similarly, SHEIN has become one of the world’s most popular fast-fashion e-commerce platforms through its revolutionary “small orders with quick returns” model and agile supply chain.

However, the leaders of this wave of international expansion are not just the big players in major sectors. Numerous Chinese companies are also making remarkable achievements in niche markets that are less familiar to Chinese consumers.

Founded in 2022, Changyao Innovation is one such “hidden champion.” This young startup, based in Shenzhen, focused on a relatively unfamiliar field for Chinese consumers when planning its first product: lawn mowing for residential lawns.

In Western countries, most residential homes come with lawns. It is generally estimated that there are 250 million private lawns and gardens worldwide, requiring maintenance for about eight months each year.

Take the United States as an example. Residents must regularly maintain their lawns, or they risk hefty fines or even more severe penalties. Lawn mowing is a necessity, but it is also a labor-intensive and somewhat hazardous task. Many people opt to hire someone to do the job, paying between $1,200 and $1,800 annually. Others purchase lawn mowing robots to reduce both labor and cost. In 2022, the global market for lawn care tools and services reached $60 billion (data source: Arizton, Global Info Research).

Changyao Innovation’s founder, Huyue, began his entrepreneurial journey in robotics in 2020, delving deeply into comprehensive robotics technology. Having lived abroad for an extended period, he is well aware of the pain points of lawn mowing. After thoroughly researching the lawn mowing robot market, he found that existing products were not well-developed, with many companies simply following trends. Huyue aimed to set a new benchmark in this industry.

He observed that the most common type of lawn mowing robot currently uses a buried wire system. To enable the robot to navigate and work on the lawn, users must bury magnetic induction wires underground, which results in low mowing efficiency and high installation and maintenance costs. If the boundaries of the mowing area change, users must re-lay the magnetic wires.

Additionally, some lawn mowing robot manufacturers have adopted more advanced autonomous navigation solutions, such as UWB (Ultra-Wideband) technology and RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) technology. However, these solutions come with significant drawbacks in terms of cost and performance, making them less than ideal for perfectly mowing lawns.

For example, some users have small lawns with trees, hills, dog houses, and other obstacles, creating a highly complex working environment for the mower. “Such scenarios are not suitable for RTK solutions because they can lose satellite signals due to tree shade or corners, causing the mower to lose its positioning,” Huyue explained. Moreover, these users are highly price-sensitive. Only a vision-based solution can ensure reasonable pricing while meeting the high complexity of mowing needs.

Huyue concluded that vision-based technology is the only viable development path for intelligent lawn mowing robots. “Doing the difficult but right thing, vision technology is challenging, especially outdoors with factors like lighting and vibrations. Currently, no robotics company has mastered it. However, vision has immense potential; it offers superior environmental and semantic understanding, resembling human sensors the most, and can accumulate more data to create a data flywheel with higher barriers to entry. Plus, it is cheaper, with a camera costing less than 25 yuan.”

Thus, Changyao Innovation was born, and the brand name AIRSEEKERS was established. Unlike other lawn mowing robots, AIRSEEKERS is equipped with multiple cameras and uses a vision-based solution for autonomous navigation. This improves mowing efficiency and stability while significantly reducing costs. This methodology, balancing technological strength, product capability, and cost-effectiveness, bears a striking resemblance to Tesla’s approach.

AIRSEEKERS lawn mowing robot 360 degree Vision platform.

AIRSEEKERS lawn mowing robot utilizes vision-based navigation.

Part 1

Since its inception, Huyue and his team have devoted their primary efforts to perfecting their inaugural product. The AIRSEEKERS intelligent lawn mowing robot is outfitted with multiple cameras, offering a 360-degree field of view that enables it to comprehensively and accurately detect environmental changes. Paired with proprietary algorithms, it delivers efficient autonomous navigation within the semi-enclosed context of residential lawns.

AIRSEEKERS lawn mowing and mulching robot

Leveraging the proprietary AirPilot vSLAM (Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) combined with deep learning perception and navigation systems, the AIRSEEKERS lawn mowing robot can autonomously explore and map its environment, ensuring comprehensive coverage across multiple areas for mowing, obstacle avoidance, and recharging. It integrates innovative technologies such as “Lawn Climbing Pattern Technology,” “Rotation Bias-Free Algorithm,” “Tightly Coupled System,” and “Dense Mapping.” Even in extreme conditions, such as a 15-second camera obstruction or intense light exposure, it maintains accurate positioning. This enables AIRSEEKERS to fully operate without human intervention, marking a departure from the era of manual boundary wiring, RTK base station deployment, and remote control mapping.

Additionally, the AIRSEEKERS visual system is optimized for complex mowing scenarios where RTK might fail due to obstructions, and it addresses visual challenges like blank walls, expansive lawns, and mixed lighting conditions. These are areas where no open-source solution on the market can compete. The AIRSEEKERS team has re-engineered their entire codebase, creating what can be described as “the Tesla of Lawns.”

According to Huyue, the early team accumulated data for training the lawn mowing robot’s autonomous driving algorithms through self-collection and purchasing methods. As the number of deployed robots increases, the team will gather more data from user scenarios, enabling faster functional improvements and iterative development.

Furthermore, Changyao Innovations has made many user-friendly design choices around the mowing process itself. For example, the lawn mower often leaves behind grass clippings. AIRSEEKERS addresses this by incorporating a blender-like module that pulverizes the clippings into a fine powder, which is then left in the soil. This not only ensures a neat appearance post-mowing but also quickly turns the clippings into fertilizer, promoting healthier lawn growth. Huyue notes that users are very interested in this feature.

After over a year of development, Changyao Innovations globally launched their first product, the AIRSEEKERS intelligent lawn mowing robot, in Germany in September 2023, and showcased it at CES 2024 in January.

IFA Exhibition

CES Exhibition

On the Changyao Innovations website, users from around the world share their experiences and photos with AIRSEEKERS. Huyue mentions that the company has delivered dozens of robots to seed users, including test users, KOLs, and media personnel. Based on their feedback, the team has been fixing bugs and improving the product.

For instance, some lawns have steep slopes, even up to forty degrees, which the robots struggle to climb; in rainy conditions, the robots might slip, or get entangled in vines. Huyue and his team are actively researching solutions to these challenges.

Notably, some companies have also launched intelligent lawn mowing robots with visual capabilities. Huyue points out that although these products are equipped with cameras, they are only used for obstacle avoidance; functions like autonomous driving still rely on traditional technologies such as UWB and RTK. In contrast, AIRSEEKERS’ visual solution not only avoids obstacles but also handles localization and navigation, making it more advanced and cost-effective. Vision is the most important and the only sensor for AIRSEEKERS.

Additionally, the intelligent lawn mowing robot market is a blue ocean, with a user penetration rate of less than 3%. As such, there is currently no intense competition or signs of a price war in the market; product strength is key to winning users. “In the early market, or before crossing the chasm, early users are not most concerned about price but rather the stability and practicality of the product. What we need to do now is not to compete with rivals on product gimmicks or to rush for funding in the capital market, but to focus on our product, continuously simplifying and solidifying it, to stand out,” Huyue says.

Huyue is not worried about other manufacturers imitating or even copying AIRSEEKERS. “They can only copy our previous generation products, while we are always working on the next generation.”

Currently, the AIRSEEKERS TRON is about to enter the small-scale trial production phase before mass production. A crowdfunding campaign was launched on Kickstarter on April 9, with mass production expected to start this summer. Huyue anticipates that the initial sales of AIRSEEKERS could reach 1,000 to 2,000 units, bringing in about $2 million in revenue. With increasing production capacity and the improvement of the global sales network, next year’s sales could reach around 50,000 units.

“The intelligent lawn mowing robot is currently in its early stages, with most users being early adopters, similar to the market for intelligent vacuum robots around 2016,” Huyue says. He expects that by around 2028, intelligent lawn mowing robots will become household items. “There are many opportunities for startups; we should not follow blindly but need to stay focused.”

The buying link is:

Airseekers has completed beta testing for over 30 overseas seed users,Global pre-sales have started!

Airseekers Beta tester

Part 2

Huyue is a fan of Tesla founder Elon Musk. Tesla’s corporate slogan is “drive the future,” and Changyao Innovation has also put forward its own slogan: “navigate the open-air future.”

Similar to Musk, Huyue also advocates for the “first principles” approach, thinking and solving problems from the fundamental basics. He believes that for lawn mowing, the essential user need is to liberate their hands, ensuring the process runs smoothly without getting stuck, requiring no human intervention, and not missing any spots. “Our product adheres to the first principles. It doesn’t need particularly ‘fancy’ features, but it must be stable enough to complete all processes reliably. We shouldn’t hold too high expectations for the first-generation product.”

However, some lawn mowing robot companies in China naively believe that the first generation should be perfect, aiming to create an “all-in-one” solution or a modular design. “Engineers often think this way, but entrepreneurs don’t,” Huyue states.

Huyue believes that most lawn mowing robot manufacturers are accustomed to “following the trend,” lacking on-site user scenario investigations and their own independent thinking. “This is precisely the significance of my entry into the lawn mowing robot industry: to create a truly user-matching lawn mowing robot, to disrupt the industry, and to set a true benchmark and flag,” he says.

Huyue previously stated that industry consensus does not equate to truth, and there might be more opportunities in areas of non-consensus. The reason why lawn mowing robots are hindered in their development is that too many people are “self-indulgent” in their blind spots. Only by daring to question, putting oneself in the user’s perspective, and integrating real experiences can one discover the non-consensus.

“If you are not a deep user of lawn mowing robots and are merely doing VoC analysis in front of a computer, you won’t be able to create a good product. No one will tell you what the product should be like; the final decision must rely on a founder with real experience,” he said.

Part 3

Currently, the global intelligent lawn mowing robot market is valued at approximately $100 million and remains in the nascent stages of industry development, presenting substantial growth potential. Huyue projects that the industry’s annual growth rate could reach around 20%, eventually scaling up to a $1 billion market.

At present, Changyao Innovation is focused on intelligent lawn mowing robots. Looking ahead, the company may venture into other outdoor cleaning domains, such as deploying robots for three-dimensional cleaning tasks. This expansion would tap into an even broader market.

Before founding Changyao Innovation, Huyue was a partner at Benmo Technology, a company specializing in manufacturing robot components and dedicated to the development of humanoid robots. This entrepreneurial journey provided Huyue with a direct and profound understanding of the robotics industry.

Moreover, this experience enabled Huyue to accumulate valuable insights from various challenges. For instance, Benmo Technology once collaborated with a leading household robot company. Due to the significant disparity in scale between the two, Benmo was often in a passive position. After founding Changyao Innovation, Huyue strategically chose partners of similar scale who were willing to grow together, resulting in smoother collaborations.

Additionally, previous extensive branding activities did not yield ideal results. “This time, we will spend less money to achieve greater victories, focusing on refined operations and exploring alternative commercialization paths,” Huyue stated. “I am the only founder in the lawn mowing robot industry with firsthand experience in sales and marketing. No one understands marketing better than I do.”

Huyue believes that in hardware entrepreneurship, the primary task is to determine the product strategy without striving to launch a perfect product immediately. “My product logic is to make reductions based on what users are willing to pay for, ensuring the product is stable and reliable, and can meet 80% of the needs. We should quickly ship and sell to ensure a healthy cash flow.”

For example, during the early development stage of AIRSEEKERS, Huyue and his team aimed to achieve “plug-and-play,” where users could simply open the package and the lawn mowing robot would operate autonomously. However, after some exploration, they found it challenging to achieve this. Upon further research, Huyue discovered that this feature was not a critical need for users. Ultimately, AIRSEEKERS abandoned the “plug-and-play” feature and still received positive user feedback.

Additionally, founding a hardware startup requires strong financing capabilities to support R&D, manufacturing, and other costs. Currently, Changyao Innovation has completed two rounds of financing and is well-funded; the next round of financing is expected to be completed in the first half of this year.

Moreover, hardware entrepreneurship heavily tests supply chain capabilities. Only with a robust supply chain can a company gain better support, such as lower prices, more flexible payment terms, and greater production capacity allocation.

As the crowdfunding campaign for AIRSEEKERS TRON is about to launch, Huyue and his company are entering a new phase of development, ready to be more comprehensively tested by users and the market. Huyue believes, “Technology serves as a short-term competitive barrier, leveraging technical strength to outpace competitors; commercialization is a long-term competitive barrier, allowing companies to exponentially expand their lead through commercial capabilities. Both are indispensable.”

In other words, Changyao Innovation has placed equal importance on technological products and commercialization from the outset, striving to find the optimal balance between a good product and a good commercial venture. This philosophy is quite similar to Elon Musk’s approach to car manufacturing. Today, Tesla is recognized as a global leader in the automotive industry, and Changyao Innovation is attempting to “cross the river by feeling for Musk’s stones,” following the path Tesla has taken.

Airseekers founding Team

“Entrepreneurship is not easy; behind every difficulty lies a multitude of challenges. Breaking through the barriers, enduring the long night, only then can one glimpse innovation,” Huyue said. “Focusing on creating a great product is the only thing that matters right now.”

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