By Shunee Yee
President and CEO of CSOFT International
When I was a child, my father often told me how he wished there was such a thing as a flying jacket that could take humans up into space. Fast forward to the present, I find myself face to face with a revolutionary piece of machinery: The Martin Jetpack. Developed over the past 35 years by New Zealander Glenn Martin, the jetpack is designed to propel a person in the air like Iron Man. Overwhelmed and filled with excitement, it dawns on me that I am a step away from fulfilling my father’s dream.
Kuang-Chi Science now holds a majority share in Glenn Martin’s company. Based in the affluent southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Kuang-Chi is one of the first companies Chinese President Xi Jinping visited when he first took office in 2012. Its founder Liu Ruopeng invites me to test out the jetpack simulator in early August 2015. A slight panic comes over me but soon my excitement overpowers it. I step into the simulator, strap myself into the main trunk, put on a set of Oculus Rift goggles and tightly grip the controls. Suddenly, I feel like I am being transported into the air, seeing the earth from a great distance.
With the Martin Jetpack set to be rolled out in 2016, Liu tells me that he can’t wait to realize another one of his dreams: to launch a space tourism program. Liu, a Duke University graduate, imagines that in the near future, people will be able to go up into space with the same ease as riding an elevator.
The 32-year-old scientist is pushing the limits of human transportation; not only that, his groundbreaking research on metamaterials is considered key to developing an invisibility cloak similar to the magical garment we see in the Harry Potter movies. To date, Kuang-Chi has more than 2,800 patent applications, 85% of them are related to metamaterials. Owner of three publicly listed companies, Liu has also developed the “Traveller,” a helium balloon that can float in near space, and a technology called the Cloud. Both technologies are capable of providing internet access to millions of people and have the potential to disrupt the telecommunications industry.
However, along with success come controversies. Some of Liu’s critics view his company as a “bubble” inflated by cash from investors; others deride his diverse investment style and doubt his ability to focus on a specific field. But sitting across from the energetic young man, I know one thing is true: Liu is a big dreamer and he’s not afraid of being called one. His encompassing goal is to ultimately turn Hollywood fantasies into reality and bring the future into the present. No wonder I felt invigorated after meeting the man who has been nicknamed the “Elon Musk of China.” In our interview for the leadership section of this magazine, Liu elaborates on the thrust of his inspiration and his unwavering attempt in bringing the future to now.
So, how exactly did your company start, and why did you choose Shenzhen as your home?
Some of us had already been friends before coming to the United States, but the idea of starting Kuang-Chi Science came when we all met again in 2006 at Duke University. We all came from different disciplinary backgrounds, but we managed to stay together and combine our experience and knowledge. But first and foremost, we are all great friends; we studied a lot; we hung out a lot; we partied a lot; that’s how we formed a team with the goal of spearheading a new technology revolution.
I chose Shenzhen because it has a unique spirit. It’s a place where miracles happen and the people here are filled with such a positive energy. It’s hard to believe that 35 years ago, the city was just a “small fishing village.” Now, it’s home to many of the world’s leading companies such as Huawei, ZTE, Mindray and Tencent. This is a place where aspiring entrepreneurs thrive, and I love it here.
I agree. I visited your headquarters and “tried out” the Martin Jetpack. Thank you for that experience. You’ve invested millions of dollars in the jetpack and in the Canadian firm Solar Ship. What was your strategy behind these acquisitions?
These investments are actually a means to something greater. More than just acquisitions, the Martin Jetpack and Solar Ship represent a part of our ambition, which is to build a new living space for everyday people. This is what we call “in-depth space” technology. We want to build a new space era and put everything in space. We are talking about transportation, internet, big data, and personal entertainment. We not only invest in jetpacks and Solar Ships, but also in cloud computing and the logistics industry, among other things.
Most importantly, we want to gather and unite the world’s first-rate innovators to accomplish this big mission—to design and create the future we all want. I’m so passionate about anything that can change the world. Isn’t everybody? Changing the world is like designing the future, which is very exciting. We like to predict what’s next, and to some extent we are the creators of our own future. I think we should all try to envision the future rather than being stuck in the past. Being able to foresee future trends can inspire us to generate innovative ideas.
For my own personal satisfaction, though, one day I’d love to be able to transform some of the creative visuals that we see in Hollywood into real life. Other fantasy “gadgets” that we are slowly turning into reality are Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and the high-altitude balloon from Kingsman: The Secret Service. And we do this so that many people can benefit from it.
Your company owns more than 2,800 patent applications, 85% of which are related to metamaterials. How do you utilize these patents for your future business? Could you give me some examples?
Basically, the foundational usage of these patented technologies can be divided into three levels: design, manufacturing and packaging. Let’s take the satellite communication system for example. We utilize metamaterials to make objects appear invisible by manipulating the laws of reflection. In other words, this material bends light in the “wrong” direction from what would normally be expected, making the object invisible to the naked eye. We are implementing this disruptive novelty into all of our technology. Not only that, we are enhancing their performances by enabling them to withstand extreme situations, such as strong wind, heavy rain, corrosion, and acute temperatures.
There are strong international players in the field of space technology. How do you view your competition, and how important is global branding to you?
If the market competition is fierce, that means the industry has matured. But we are at the stage where the space sector is just starting to bud and we want the most innovative players to join us in this worldwide mission. I don’t see them as competitors; at this point, it’s not so much about winning as it is about joining hands and looking into the future together. Space doesn’t only belong to Kuang-Chi; it belongs to every industry, every company, and every household. Space pertains to the universe, the entire human race, and it’s not limited to a particular nation, person or culture.
So obviously our market is global, and today’s talents are also globally distributed. Judging by the grandeur of our mission and the diverse, innate capabilities needed to accomplish this mission, we don’t have any choice but to be a global brand.
So, how do you balance between being a dreamer and an entrepreneur? And who is your biggest inspiration?
“Dreamer” is a very controversial term. It implies someone who is brave, someone who brings the future into the present. It doesn’t sound very realistic and it’s almost like a bubble. But yes, I could be considered a dreamer and I’m sure I will be forever, because that’s my philosophy. Think about some of the world’s greatest inventors! The skeptics around them probably outnumbered their supporters, but they didn’t give up. I don’t think that my dreams are out of reach. It’s not far from where we are now. Our world has witnessed many extraordinary technological advancements. By combining different technologies together, I am confident that we can achieve a lot of those dreams.
As for my biggest inspiration, I’d have to say Isaac Newton. I consider him to be the greatest person in human history. Before he compiled his three laws, we were considered ancient; after his discovery, we became modern. He is truly the separator of time.
This article was published in the 2015 edition of HQ Magazine, a publication of CSOFT International. If you’re interested in learning more about CSOFT’s globalization and localization solutions, visit our Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn pages or you can visit our webpage.