China’s smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi released its latest self-balancing scooter, the Ninebot Plus with an RMB 3499 ($514) price tag on June 28th, two years after launching the Ninebot Mini. For the first time, Ninebot is using radio positioning technology for consumer products, with new remote controls that can be used to enable scooter to follow the user and unlocking. In addition, the user can also fit Xiaomi PTZ camera onto the scooter.
For those of you who not familiar with Ninebot, here’s a refresher: In the spring of 2015, Ninebot officially acquired the self-balancing scooter company Segway, including the U.S. company’s self-balancing vehicle patent and 17 years of research and development experience. This was possible due to its Ninebot’s backer Xiaomi.
Technode met with Wang Ye, co-founder and president of Ninebot at TechCrunch Shenzhen 2017. In the interview, he gave background about the new product and talked about the future vision of the company.
Wang Ye did not disclose any information about Ninebot Plus at that time, but he did admit that the company is cooperating with Intel on artificial intelligence. He believes that AI is the breakthrough point for every technology company seeking innovation.
How self-balancing robots can help our daily lives
He gave an example how self-balancing robots can help Meituan’s food delivery process.
“A customer places ten orders at 12 o’clock at one restaurant on the fifth floor of Wanda Mall. He would normally have to come up to the 5th floor, and line up for 14 minutes. Imagine there are 10 robots that can queue instead of him, and the robots, each holding one meal, will automatically navigate to the door of the mall to hand over the meals to the delivery person. There’s potential for such efficiency growth,” Wang Ye says.
Similarly, they can serve as security robots instead of closed-circuit cameras.
“In many venues, there are security guards walking around, along with moving security cameras. But these security cameras can be replaced by a high-frequency camera fitted to a self-balancing scooter and the security robots can transmit the video to the control room via Wi-Fi. Then maybe 100 security cameras in a park can be replaced with at least 50 self-balancing robots,” he says.
It is not difficult to see that B2B could be the future for such self-balancing robots.
Reducing human labor and cutting costs
Wang Ye and his partner mentioned that they also want these self-balancing scooters to spread among ordinary people, and be regarded as affordable toys.
“We have a novice tutorial, a basic tutorial like an interactive game on a mobile phone app. The new version will have a safe driving tutorial, and the user can use this to assess whether their driving habits are safe and skilled enough,” Wang Ye explained.
“It’s not only about user experience. It comes down to reducing human labor involved, including relying on online sales channels and completely cutting the sales staff and store staff labor costs,” he says.
Ninebot aims to use machines rather than human labor to improve the degree of automation.
“For some tasks that require huge risks or strongly depend on human labor, we are using machines to complete them. For example, when we deploy sensors, we use machines in order to reduce the rate of human operation,” he says.
The second point is to cut costs through technological innovation. Wang Ye said the team went through the algorithm to eliminate a few of the essential sensors, which helped to control the cost greatly.
“Our team’s two experts published two theses on how to use the model to manage the primary resistance to replace the current sensor. We worked on an algorithm so that it can be automatically calibrated as a sensor,” he said. “This way we saved hundreds of RMB on each unit by getting rid of the sensors. Fewer parts still manage to perform the same function, and quality-price ratio naturally goes up.”
Sharing self-balancing scooters? Maybe not
On the topic of sharing economy, largely influenced by sharing bikes in China, Wang Ye and his company did not show much interest.
“I think the sharing economy of self-balancing scooter may be a false demand. Self-balancing scooters have been sales-oriented in China, and the pay-per-use operation has been used abroad,” Wang Ye said.
Ninebot is reportedly cooperating with foreign hotels and resorts on the deployment of 1,800 parking spaces, more than 10,000 Segways and its own brand of self-balancing scooters. The main profit comes from collecting royalties.
“We are also planning to do an app that connects with a unified QR code on top of Ninebot Plus. For example, users can pay RMB 30-50 an hour to ride the Ninebot,” he said. “The price can be set by the business that runs it.”