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Battery giant Anker backs programmable robot maker Keyi

·2 min read

The promise of STEAM robots, which are billed to increase children's interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), has been around for years. The market is teeming with products from hardcore robotics scientists and their copycats. Many have faded away, but investor interest hasn't died down, at least for one company coming from China.

Keyi Technology, which is known for its modular, cycloptic robot ClicBot, just raised "tens of millions of dollars" in a new funding round. Powered by Blockly, Google's visual drag-and-drop programming language, ClicBot claims it can be designed in thousands of different ways.

The lead investor of the funding round was Anker, the China- and U.S.-based battery pack and charging giant with a current market cap of 27 billion yuan ($4 billion). Other investors included Xiaomi, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun's Shunwei Capital and BlueRun Ventures China, the Silicon Valley early-stage investor that entered China in the 2000s.

When asked about details of its investment portfolio, Anker declined to comment. It also didn't answer a question about potential collaborations between Keyi and itself.

Keyi's new funding comes at a time when inflation in the U.S. and Europe is hitting consumers' appetite for tech devices and other goods. But Keyi, which derives 60% of its revenues from outside of China, sees "significant growth" in the global smart toys market thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted millions of children to learn from home. And like its peers, Keyi is enjoying a growing demand for its educational robots.

Image Credits: Keyi's programmable robot ClicBot

The company shipped more than 10,000 parcels of ClicBot last year, growing over 300% year-over-year, though it hasn't turned profitable, its marketing chief Chen Peng tells TechCrunch. It's expected to launch a new product in September.

The pandemic also brings challenges to Keyi as COVID lockdowns and a rebound in global trade put the global shipping system under stress. "Inflation and COVID-19 have definitely had some impact on our shipping rates and there is no doubt that we are facing the risk of a decrease in profit margin -- especially because we are an international e-commerce company," Peng tells TechCrunch.

In the meantime, export-oriented Chinese consumer startups like Keyi are coping with the consequences of Apple's privacy policy change. "Re-target marketing becomes limited as now we are unable to obtain data from iOS users" and "the attribution analysis model becomes ineffective as well," Peng admits. The company's strategy is to place more resources into content marketing, which "has always been seen as an important way for us to let more people get to know ClicBot and an incentive for us to develop a better product," says the executive.