This Chinese robotics startup is selling a knock-off of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot that costs $75,000 for only $2,500
Shanzhai is a Chinese term that literally means “mountain fortress” or “mountain village.” But the contemporary use of the term usually encompasses counterfeit, imitation, or pirated products, which can involve the imitation and trademark infringement of brands and companies.
You may argue that every economy starts out being copycats. However, China has taken copycat to a new level. In 2019, 1 in 5 U.S. companies said China stole their intellectual property. Analyst Jeff Schulze even went as far as saying that “China’s alleged intellectual property theft a bigger threat to market than tariffs.” Surprisingly, the country even brags about stealing intellectual property from Western nations. One China defender claimed that Chinese “bandit innovators” could be good for the world.
Nonetheless, a large number of Chinese companies are now based on Shanzhai business model, which has earned China the reputation of being a “copycat nation.” Some companies are more extreme than others. One example of these Chinese companies is Unitree Robotics, a Zhejiang, China-based robotics startup founded by Chinese roboticist Xing Wang, with help from Chinese angel investors. The startup focuses on the development, production, and sales of high-performance quadruped robots.
As you may recall in February 2018, BostonDynamics unveiled SpotMini, a futuristic dog-like robot that can open doors in the most difficult manner imaginable. The four-legged robot uses its mechanical arm with a pincer on the end to grasp and turn the handle and then hold open the door.
Fast forward a little over three years later, Unitree Robotics unveiled Unitree Go1, a SpotMini copycat and robust-looking four-legged bot that’s remarkably cheap. Unlike Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot which costs $74,500, Unitree Go1 price starts at just $2,700.
A demo video of Go1 shows it being put to such useful tasks as “following someone on a run” and “carrying a single bottle of water.” Unitree dubbed Go1 as a companion robot that can accompany you to wherever you want to go.
That’s not all. In May 2021, Unitree introduced a quadruped robot dog model is called A1 that also looks like Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot but costs less than $10,000, a price significantly cheaper than its more advanced older sibling, the Laikago. Below is a side-by-side comparison of Unitree A1 with Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini.
Below is a video overview of Unitree A1. It has a maximum outdoor running speed of 3.3m/s(11.88km/h) and the maximum torque of each joint is 33.5NM. It weighs 12kg with a battery. it also comes with an integrated RGBD camera and wireless video transmission.
Below is another video from cNet.
Unitree says its mission is to make robots every bit as mass market as drones and smartphones. In keeping with the Boston Dynamics model, Unitree’s first robot is a four-legged robot dog named Laikago after the Soviet space dog, Laika, which in 1957 became the first animal to orbit the Earth.