Parallax Insider News

Parallax Selling to Shaanxi Universities with RobotC China

  • By: Ken Gracey Published: 23 September, 2013 0 comments

Over the last 15 years I've visited China at least once a year, mostly for supply issues. But the purpose of my travel has changed in recent years - Parallax moved most of our manufacturing back to the USA and now we're actually selling in China. This August I went to Xi'an to work closely with our distributor Terry Sy of RobotC China. We exhibited with them at the Xi'an Technology Exposition and fully trained their staff.

Why do they care about robotics education and the Parallax Multicore Microcontroller? Xi'an is the center of China's aerospace, controls and automation market. The convention included electric vehicle manufacturers, robotics and renewable energy products. The universities and the country want to produce qualified engineers to create products for this industry, and they'll need an education in embedded electronics to do so. At this point, the most common microcontrollers taught in schools are 8051s, ARM, and BASIC Stamp copies. Arduinos are common in the hobby market, but I haven't seen one in China's education system yet.

The RobotC China staff is currently about 15 people, all university graduates. They speak English very well and they all build, program and support Parallax products. Mr. Sy is expanding the staff to 30 people by the end of October, and assigning two people to each province. His goal is to return his significant American successes to his birth country in the form of robotics education, and we have no doubts that he will succeed.

The biggest requirement for an American company selling in China is that you have a good distributor, as reaching the China market directly from the USA is nearly impossible. Terry Sy introduced himself to Parallax after taking a Carnegie Mellon University course in RobotC, a language that programs everything from Lego to Parallax. Mr Sy is from Hong Kong, but split the last 20 years between Sacramento and Xi'an. Perfect - he understands all cultures, lives by Parallax and in Xi'an, speaks several languages and will help us win this market!

We'll have to make some adaptations to the Propeller ActivityBot for this market. While Chinese value quality (especially name brands) some steps must be taken to source portions of the product domestically because dimensional shipping weight from the USA is very expensive, and tariffs will increase the price by another 20%. Relationships (guanxi) and training are also very important, so you can count on lots of face time with your customers. And most importantly, an educational product must have a a quality curriculum that is recognized and accepted in the USA. With our new Propeller C and the ActivityBot we are finally to sell in China!

Some of the photos above will give you an idea of the trip. Aside from hourly presentations, I also had the opportunity to speak at the opening ceremony to announce Parallax's support in next year's first International Autonomous Robot Competition to be held in Xi'an. I also mentioned how I appreciated the warm China welcome and that I look forward to working with the universities in the coming year. Xi'an region has 60 universities alone, in this corner of Shaanxi province. That's right - there's a lifetime of business opportunity just in this single province.

We also visited the very impressive Terracotta Army from the Qin Dynasty. What a humbling exhibit of Chinese organization, leadership and culture. You'll see that I took my younger son Nathan along for this trip. Without his help, we would have never repaired the 30+ demos that in time or kept them running during the exposition. I don't think he missed the first week of seventh grade anyway. . .

I feel thankful to having watched China's transition over the past 15 years up close, and honored that Parallax is considered a qualified supplier to this market. As we return to China over the next year we will return to the Parallax Insider with more news. If you are an educator who'd like to visit China let me know - I'm considering assembling a group of our instructors and students to make a visit to this region in 2014 to participate in the contest!