A company from China is ready to capture Japan's demand for autonomous service vehicles as robots play an increasingly important role to address the aging society's labor shortage.
Pix Moving is joining hands with TIS, a publicly listed information technology company in Japan, to bring self-driving robots to retirement communities. As part of the partnership, Pix has received "close to $10 million" from TIS in a Series A funding round, just four months after it secured $11 million in an earlier investment, Angelo Yu, founder and CEO of Pix Moving, tells TechCrunch.
The financing came at a time when "USD venture capital funds are scaling back their activity" and "startup valuations are relatively low" in China, says Yu. Many companies have thus turned to domestic RMB funds, but these outfits tend to have a shorter time horizon than their USD counterparts, which puts a lot of pressure on companies to monetize.
Yu declines to disclose Pix's post-money valuation but says the firm reached its target valuation in the latest round.
The strategic investment sees Pix Moving working with TIS, which has customers in Japan, China and Southeast Asia, to supply aging communities with robovans that can deliver food, grocery and medical equipment to residents at their doorstep. Pix will be providing lidar-powered vehicles and operational support while TIS overlooks the IT aspect of the partneship.
Pix Moving was founded in 2014 by Yu, a former architect, and took a different route from most other autonomous driving startups in China: rather than developing the entire self-driving vehicle, it focuses on what's called the "skateboard" chassis, a platform that houses electronic motors, batteries and other key components -- similar to what Canoo and Rivian do. The skateboard can be scaled to various sizes and topped with different bodies, which suits an electric vehicle market with fast-changing products and lowers the barrier to EV manufacturing, Yu suggests.
The modular architecture of a skateboard makes crowdsourcing ideas easy. As such, the founder envisages a future where EV making can take place through, lo and behold, blockchain-based decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs.
"A lot of DAO projects today are virtual, so I wonder if we can do something in the tangible, real economy," he says.
The vision is to attract third-party developers to build on top of Pix Moving's skateboard platform. Rather than hierarchical management, the community will be managed by a DAO, which works by executing predefined rules in smart contracts, or lines of code. The company has dabbled in a rough form of the idea by hosting a virtual hackathon that attracted automotive professionals from around the world.
Overseas markets currently account for 40% of Pix's revenues and are expected to reach 50% next year. With 160 staff, the company is headquartered in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, which is also home to Apple's cloud storage facilities in China. It's setting up a subsidiary and hiring in Japan.