FJDynamics Raises $70M to Make Manual Labor Easier

DJI’s former chief scientist Wu Di’s FJ Dynamics recently closed a Series B round of $70 million, with the aim of allowing workers in the most demanding environments to use robotic technology.

When I inquired of Wu about the distinction between his firm’s farming robots, he offered a response that would make any publicist sweat: “I don’t think our technology is that special.” The company’s aim, according to Mr. Li, is to provide practical and inexpensive robots for the most labor-intensive sectors.

“You can have the most advanced AI algorithms,” he continued, “But if the technology doesn’t work on the production line or the farm, because you don’t have any industry experience, then how does your technology benefit people?”

Before FJDynamics, Wu was involved in developing cutting-edge technologies. He served as the company’s chief scientist and oversaw DJI’s purchase of Victor Hasselblad AB, a 180-year-old Swedish camera maker, in 2017.

Before returning to China, he spent ten years in Sweden, where he earned his PhD in domain-specific processor design. He also worked for fabless semiconductor firm Coresonic AB and Koenigsegg AB, a Swedish luxury sports car manufacturer.

“After seeing all of these top-notch technologies, it’s hard to call us a high-tech firm,” said the company’s founder, who was wearing a somewhat worn checkered shirt and small glasses.

We were seated in a makeshift meeting room, which was made up of a few desks separated from the rest of the open-plan office by movable walls. The firm, which was based in China’s technological mecca Shenzhen, was growing rapidly and had approximately 1,000 workers.

In 2019, Wu departed DJI to start FJDynamics, a firm that focuses on agricultural robots. The company’s mission was to develop farming-related technologies for unmanned lawnmowers, orchard sprayers, and feed pushing machines. Since then, it has expanded into sectors that require a lot of manual labor, such as construction and manufacturing.

Chinese businesses like FJDynamics are in high demand among investors as Beijing pushes for a digital transformation throughout the country’s traditional industries. FJDynamics has drawn a number of heavyweight investors, including Tencent and state-owned auto manufacturer Dongfeng Asset Management. DJI held a stake in the firm from the start but subsequently sold its shares.

The company declined to name its sole investor in its most recent Series B round, only stating that it is an important Chinese internet company.

The financing will allow them to do so“grow its suite of robotics automation technology across agriculture, facility management, construction and gardening, along with supporting the increasing demand of the company’s ESG product offerings in over 60 countries.”

A few engineers have left DJI to start their own firms or join other people’s fledgling projects throughout the years. Portable battery maker EcoFlow, hairdryer developer Zuvi, and electric toothbrush manufacturer Evowera are just a few of the most well-known names.

It was his growing distance from “high-end” hardware that drove him away from a prominent post at the world’s largest drone company.

“If you look at how robotic technology is being applied, there are a lot of companies using drones and autonomous vehicles. But the majority of people on earth aren’t benefiting from it.”

“Agriculture, construction, gardening… Work conditions in these sectors are physically demanding and there are still a lot of us doing this kind of job. The question is how we use robotic technology to improve their work environment, and that doesn’t mean simply replacing them with robots,” said the founder.

The popular FJDynamics product is the automated feed pusher. Cows require 10 feeding intervals throughout the day to produce high-quality milk.

Farms must have workers on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For example, a farm with 500 cattle needs at least three grass feeders to operate shifts. However, in areas where resources are limited, farms may not be able to employ as many people and personnel will be out tending to the cattle all day long in even the coldest season.

The objective of the ‘JFJDynamics’ company is to make farmers’ lives easier. The firm’s mission-driven feeder, which costs around 20,000 euros each, can feed up to 500 animals every day. In 2019 it acquired the 110-year-old Swedish farming business Sveaverken, which has helped put Chinese feeding robot technology to use.

“I never talk about technology to my customers. The farmer is more interested in whether my product can help improve the crop yield,” said Wu. “Every farmer is an economist.”

Because of the firm’s goal of reducing technology costs, margins are “narrow” and management is concerned about operational expenditures.

In 2021, the company aims to have a yearly revenue of over ten billion dollars. Two years ago, the firm’s total sales were only around $1.5 million per year; today they are nearly double that number and growing at a rapid rate. As of now, approximately 40% of the startup’s revenues come from outside China, with 60 countries represented. Many Chinese firms expanding into other countries are increasingly cautious about their origins, fearing anti-Chinese sentiment. Wu takes a more proactive approach.

“Even though I’ve lived in Europe for ten years, I can’t rip off my skin. I don’t think that’s important — whether it’s a Chinese, American or Swedish entrepreneur… As long as you build great products and bring benefits to my customers, there will be users.”

Compliance is critical for any company’s global expansion. FJDynamics provides the hardware and software, while local partners assist in the deployment process by using data. Outside of China, Microsoft Azure is its primary cloud partner to enable “elastic” deployment while also meeting GDPR data privacy standards.

“Our culture is that we don’t want the data,” Wu said.

The founder said FJDynamics’ technologies utilize basic chips that may be purchased in China, making the company unlikely to be affected by recent supply chain disruptions.

Even though Wu may not be working on the most cutting-edge technology now, he is constantly seeking new methods to convey his expertise. He lectures at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen when he’s not inventing the next farm robot.

“I live a simple life that focuses on two things — product [FJDynamics] and education,” the founder said. “I’ve seen a lot and realized that money can’t change you or make you happier. So you need a simple goal, and achieving the simple goal makes your life happier.”