Start-ups like Makeblock are helping China reposition itself as a global powerhouse for the industry
Makeblock is a five-year-old start-up that now sells millions of dollars worth of do-it-yourself robotics kits and related products.
The business started as a way for hobbyists to find parts, but has grown into a construction platform that offers more than 500 pieces, compatible software and building kits.
Now employing some 400 people, including engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other top universities, Makeblock launched three new products last year, one of which was Airblock, a DIY drone which raised nearly US$900,000 in a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign and earned an internationally-recognised Red Dot Design Award.
Makeblock’s success illustrates how small start-ups are transforming China’s tech landscape. After calls by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近 平) for “a robot revolution”, more than 1,000 robotics firms have mushroomed across the nation, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
“I think robotics is a sector in which China is going to quickly become a global leader,” said Benjamin Joffe, a partner at HAX, a start-up accelerator that has invested in several Chinese robotics companies.
At the moment, few nations seem ready to match China’s commitment to robotics. Beijing has armed the robotics industry with money and incentives: billions of dollars have been poured into technology parks dedicated to robotics production and related businesses, and green lights have been given to Chinese companies acquiring Western robotics technologies.
Like China, Makeblock’s founder Jasen Wang, is aiming high: the 31-year-old says that within three years, “we want to become the biggest educational robotics maker in the world”.
“Adapted with permissions from South China Morning Post”