Interview with Gao Shaolong, CEO & Chief Scientist
SRT: Rising Star in Soft Robotics
With 102 soft robotics patents, a materials science lab, plus electrical and process labs, Soft Robotics Technology Co. (SRT) quickly resolves customer production challenges. And if necessary: "Puts the R&D center on the customer site!"
—Gao Shaolong, CEO & Chief Scientist
SMEs: the capillaries of the economy
Small and medium-sized enterprises, known as the “capillaries” of the economy, are an important force in expanding employment, improving people’s livelihoods, and promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.
During the epidemic, many small and medium-sized enterprises rose to the challenge and made full use of digital technologies such as the Internet, big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence to break new roads. Starting today, we will launch a series of reports on “small and medium-sized enterprises breaking New Roads in the Cloud”, which will tell you the vivid stories of small and medium-sized enterprises struggling against the trend and seeking opportunities in the crisis.
“Put the R&D center on the customer site”
“This is the first time to see a soft robot. It works gently and accurately. It can quickly sort and box fruit intact. A soft robot has attracted crowds at the 2022 World Robot Conference.
Behind the “show-off technology”, the unremitting exploration of the scientific research team is indispensable. The silicone flexible claw, a unique skill of Beijing Soft Robotics Technology Co LTD, is said to be in short supply.
Gao Shaolong, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview with the Financial Times: “During the two years of the epidemic, our sales increased rather than decreased. In 2019 it was 2.8 million yuan, in 2020 it was 11 million yuan, in 2021 it was 41 million yuan, and this year it is expected to reach 400 million yuan.”
Such a big jump in sales in just a few years, especially given that many industries were affected to varying degrees during the epidemic, Gao’s figures are truly amazing. Not only that, he revealed that 74 of the 102 patents the company has received have been issued since 2020.
“Technology is our core competitiveness and innovation is our soul.” “Market feedback is the most direct reward,” says Gao. “Our products have been sold to more than 20 countries around the world by building a reputation at home and abroad.”
“After the COVID-19 outbreak, we also encountered some difficulties, mainly from the supply chain. “The epidemic has affected the entire logistics system, and the supply chain is blocked. Many products, such as motors and robotic arms, are short of parts and cannot be delivered, resulting in delivery delays.” However, the company aims at the new market demand and continues to innovate. For example, when vending machines are in high demand during the pandemic, soft robots are helping the new retail industry automate the sorting and shelving of goods.
In the past two years, prefabricated dishes, which are easy to operate and convenient, have been favored by many consumers. “The soft robot technology and the demand of the prepared vegetables industry fit well. We seize the opportunity to use our technological advantages to solve the problem of automatic handling and sorting of irregular and vulnerable items in the fresh prepared vegetables industry, and realize the ‘goods to people’ storage logistics solution and the automatic sorting and packaging solution of the prepared vegetables for group meals.”
Newly Launched: Baking Automation Solutions
Highly Flexible Soft Claw Technology.
Gao Shaolong said, fruits and vegetables, pastry and other food due to irregular shape, fragile, etc., the need for manual operation, flexible jaws can be in contact with the object wrapped, achieve all kinds of food and fruits and vegetables automatic grasp and packaging; The company has also developed a fully automated production line for prepared vegetables, which can be traced throughout the whole process, playing a significant role in food safety.
“Soft robotics is a versatile technology for multiple industries, and a wide range of industry needs is driving the rapid development of the market. Companies need to keep developing products for different scenarios.” “During the pandemic, we worked closely with our core customers to avoid affecting R&D efficiency. Our R&D team was stationed abroad for a long time and our R&D center was built on the customer site,” Gao said. We can say that half of our innovation is done for us by our customers.”
“As long as the technology is good and the product is good, there will be a place”
“Traditional robotics is based on biomimetic studies of natural articulated animals, while soft robotics is based on biomimetic studies of natural mollusks such as starfish and octopus. “Unlike the rigor of traditional robotics, soft robots have flexible, safe and flexible motion characteristics.” Introduction by Gao Shaolong.
Six years ago, Gao and several like-minded partners set out to explore the development and application of soft robots. However, the development of soft robots has proved more difficult than expected. This is a new industry, not only has no ready-made reference model, there is no industry technical standards, not even the name of soft robot structural components in the industry has not agreed.
“There are many uncertainties in the process of technology verification, and the real application conditions are very complex, so the industrial application technology needs to be customized. Different scenarios have different requirements, and each industry needs a lot of early research work.” Gao Shaolong said that the team measured the data, build the model, build the structure, we open full power, together to attack the difficult.
Gao’s team was the first to make flexible jaws in the domestic market, but later found that a single “claw” could not meet customers’ needs, and there was no software for it on the market. Is it better to abandon the order or invest more R&D effort to make intelligent solutions? Mr. Gao chose the latter. For example, when making thermos cup production line, the company needs to invent a kind of industrial software for the soft claw to solve the bottleneck of the liner’s fragility. In ORDER to design software, the company has specially expanded a research and development team to design automatic production lines for the thermos cup industry to improve product quality and production efficiency.
“As a small business, we have our own materials science lab, electrical lab and process lab, and we deal with technical challenges every day.” Gao Shaolong said that innovation is endless, technology never sleeps, constantly exploring application scenarios, so that the company has been accelerating.
“Soft power” can not be underestimated, the appearance of soft robot to fill the irregular fragile goods intelligent sorting and packaging market gap, to solve the problem of industrial automation production “last centimeter”, now has been applied in semiconductor, food fresh, electronic products, auto parts, medical equipment and other more than 20 industries.
“Soft robots come in handy! As long as the technology is good and the product is good, there will be a place.” “Gao said.
‘We’ve hit the golden age of technology entrepreneurship’
Ni Guangnan, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said robots are known as “the pearl on the crown of the manufacturing industry,” and their research, development, manufacturing and application are important indicators to measure a country’s level of scientific and technological innovation and high-end manufacturing.
Soft robots are among the top 10 cutting-edge robotics technologies released by the Chinese Institute of Electronics from 2022 to 2023. Experts believe that the soft robot has a continuous deformable structure and will play an important role in man-machine integration, medical rehabilitation, industrial production and special applications.
“Driven by market demand, technological breakthroughs and policy guidance and support, the development of the robot industry, including soft robots, has achieved remarkable results, with rapid growth in industry scale and huge potential.” Liu Dacheng, deputy director of the Internet Industry Research Institute of Tsinghua University, said in an interview with the newspaper that application is the driving force for the rapid development of the robot industry. China has a very wide range of application scenarios, and the industrial demand is strong, and all kinds of scenarios require the research and development of related products.
“Starting a business in China has the advantage of being in the right place at the right time. We have caught up with the golden age of technology entrepreneurship, and we often feel like we have met Bole.” Gao said that thanks to China’s favorable policy environment and broad market space, his company has become a leader in the soft robot industry in China and the world. At present, the company team of nearly 300 people, has been recognized by the national high-tech enterprise, or the national special new “little giant” enterprise.
“The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology focuses on building a gradient cultivation system for high-quality enterprises, and has cultivated more than 40,000 provincial-level specialized, refined, and specialized new enterprises, and 4,762 national-level specialized, refined and specialized new ‘little giant’ enterprises. Relevant enterprises fully reflect the characteristics of focusing on casting expertise, supporting strong industries, and winning the market with innovation.” Shan Lipo, director of the Small and medium-sized Enterprise Development and Promotion Center under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said that cultivating such enterprises is the key to winning the battle of key core technologies and promoting the transformation of Chinese manufacturing from big to strong.
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