Chinese Space-Age Tech Outfit Embarks on Global Shopping Spree

(Bloomberg) -- KuangChi, the Chinese technology company hoping to send tourists into space and develop flying jet-packs, could soon go on a $600 million investment spurt.

KuangChi Science Ltd., whose other projects include the Wearable Spiritual Armour exoskeleton, launched a $300 million fund in May to back startups working on cutting-edge computing, space-faring technology and communications. The fund’s outlay may double because of the plethora of suitable companies that have since contacted the Hong Kong-listed company, Founder and Chairman Liu Ruopeng told Bloomberg News.

Liu’s also hoping to develop technology to decipher human emotions. Last week, it announced a $3 million investment in Israel’s Beyond Verbal Communication Ltd., which specializes in voice analytics software, part of an overall $50 million doled out so far. The company relies on Chinese government grants to bankroll its research into moonshots, as well as bank lines of credit, he said.

“It really depends on how many companies and how much technology is actually within our scope, and it’s also reliant on how many strategic partners work together with us,” said Liu, a Duke University graduate who was part of the team that worked on the feasibility of light-bending invisibility cloaks.

Six-year-old KuangChi has a lot on its plate. Despite having few products on the market, Liu is intent on funding research into everything from space-faring capsules to the Martin Jetpack, a prototype of which it acquired from a New Zealand researcher last year.

Later this year, it intends to send mice and turtles into near-space -- between 20 to 100 kilometers above sea level -- via a capsule hooked up to balloons. If that works, KuangChi can begin exploring sending humans aloft. It’s even delving into family entertainment: Liu plans to invest 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) on a theme park that will allow visitors to experience life in the future and outer space, he’s told the China Daily.

The company has come under fire in local media for having plenty of ideas but few available products. Liu, in turn, says his company is focused on commercializing products as quickly as possible. Its main product is the Cloud, a network of balloons that provides internet access and data analysis much like Google’s Project Loon, or surveillance for government agencies. And the jetpack is set for commercial operations by 2017, he said.

KuangChi doesn’t make enough on its own to sustain its investments in material sciences, new products or venture capital. Liu declined to give a breakdown of exactly how much of the company’s spending was sourced from government versus private money. CICC analysts led by Yufei Wang, who have a hold rating on the company, predict a fiscal 2016 net income of just 227 million yuan, driven largely by the stable delivery of Cloud balloons to Chinese government customers. 

“We expect to see KuangChi’s high-tech take further steps towards commercial use” from the second half of 2016, they wrote. The jet-pack’s readiness for commercial operation depends on safety tests, they said.

With assistance from Robert Fenner