Zhang Li, a former WeRide executive with extensive experience in the autonomous vehicle industry, has left to co-found and serve as COO at LimX Dynamics, a Shenzhen-based robotics startup. He aims to harness his knowledge in technology and business development to help the company advance legged robotics, a budding field. Zhang’s transition comes at a time when China is focusing on mass-producing humanoid robots by 2025, opening up opportunities for talent and investment. He hopes to ensure the robotics industry progresses with a stable foundation, contrasting with the uncertain revenue prospects of the autonomous vehicle sector.
Zhang Li, an experienced figure in the autonomous vehicle industry, has taken a surprising turn in his career by joining a startup focused on legged robotics. Zhang’s career trajectory has often reflected China’s technology trends. In 2018, he left his position at Cisco to become the Chief Operating Officer of WeRide, a Chinese autonomous vehicle company that was less than a year old at the time. Over the following years, China became a hub for autonomous vehicle innovation, giving rise to several AV unicorns, including WeRide, which reached a valuation of $4.4 billion last year.
Zhang’s unexpected departure from WeRide in June, just three months after the company confidentially filed for an IPO, raised eyebrows. However, as details about his new endeavor emerged, it became clear that his decision was driven by a desire to be a part of the “next big thing.”
He has now joined LimX Dynamics, a robotics startup based in Shenzhen, as its co-founder and Chief Operating Officer. In this role, Zhang will primarily focus on shaping the company’s business strategy, operations, channel development, marketing, communications, and government relations, both domestically and internationally.
The timing of Zhang’s move aligns well with recent developments in China. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a detailed plan that outlines the country’s ambition to mass-produce humanoid robots by 2025. Such government initiatives have historically attracted talent and investment to emerging technology fields.
Having spent five years in the AV industry, Zhang was ready for a change. He had two key criteria for his next move: the company needed to possess cutting-edge proprietary technology and have the potential to attract substantial capital. LimX Dynamics met these criteria. Founded by a group of robotics scientists, the startup had already secured 200 million yuan ($27.5 million) in angel and pre-A financing. In addition to Zhang’s appointment, the startup is also bringing on Dr. Jia Pan, a tenured associate professor at the University of Hong Kong, as its Chief Scientist.
Zhang’s expertise lies in working with entrepreneurial scientists and companies where technology and business development go hand in hand. Given his track record in helping WeRide find product-market fit and scale robotaxi operations in China, Zhang appears well-suited to work with a startup focused on legged robots, a relatively nascent category of mobile robots that use leg mechanics for movement.
The transition from the autonomous vehicle industry to legged robotics may seem smooth due to the transferability of Zhang’s knowledge and skillsets. He noted the similarities between the two fields, such as the use of Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology for navigation. Both industries also address the challenge of moving from one point to another, with robots potentially becoming as common as cars for domestic tasks in the future.
Nevertheless, while there are parallels between the two industries, it’s essential to recognize that they are not entirely analogous. Zhang pointed out the potential for shared supply chains and sales channels between vehicles and robots. LimX Dynamics is currently testing a prototype for industrial inspection applications, with plans to expand into automobile manufacturing, logistics, and household services.
Zhang’s mission is not just limited to obvious use cases but also to envision scenarios that are currently inconceivable. He believes that robots, as devices with operating systems, offer ample room for imagination and innovation.
Despite significant investment and hiring in the AV industry, the path to meaningful revenues remains unclear in both China and the U.S. Zhang hopes for a more successful outcome for the legged robotics industry, emphasizing the importance of landing securely and not rushing ahead without a solid foundation, much like the self-driving industry.