5 minutes with … Dr. Yang Ji, CEO of LiangDao Germany
LiangDao Intelligent Automotive Technology (“LiangDao”) is a Sino-German software provider and engineering service provider of AI-based LiDAR sensor systems for autonomous vehicle testing and validation as well as traffic data collection and management. As a global organisation with head office in Beijing, LiangDao has maintained research and development centres in Berlin and Munich since 2018. The company is also active with a business centre in Shanghai, an engineering workshop in GuAn and a development centre in Suzhou. LiangDao was awarded the Top 25 Innovation Leben Award by Bayern Innovativ in 2020 and the Innovation Award of the City of Munich in 2021.
Dr. Ji, can you please briefly describe what services LiangDao offers? Your company focuses on level 3-5 autonomous driving technologies. What specific areas of application do these technology standards cover?
Autonomous driving is an important component of future mobility, especially for freight traffic on motorways and avoiding dangerous situations in urban areas. The challenge is that the vehicles themselves now have to make the decision, not the drivers. In order to ensure safe and pleasant driving, the self-driving vehicle must be able to detect the surroundings quickly and precisely using powerful sensor technology. For this, LiangDao provides valuable support to customers by having our engineers train the future vehicles and traffic infrastructure with advanced LiDAR sensor system and in-house developed AI software. Various objects such as trucks, cars, bicycles and pedestrians can be precisely identified in the driving environment with this system. These products can be used for testing and validation as well as for traffic data collection.
You have been active in Bavaria for three years. What were the deciding factors for open the new location in Munich at that time?
After all these years of living in Bavaria, I feel at home here. Therefore, I can proudly say that I am a Munich resident. This federal state is also home to top players in the international automotive industry and their high-tech suppliers. This stable eco-system is incredibly important for innovative start-up companies like LiangDao. The digital transformation of the automotive industry is in full swing and offers start-ups great potential. By working closely with established companies in the co-creation phase, LiangDao has gained a clear picture of the problem and can therefore manage product development capacity accordingly. This is how LiangDao has gained a foothold in Bavaria and beyond in Germany.
Bavaria is an excellent location for the automotive industry, both in the past and in the digital future. Together with Bavarian partners, we will shape this change through innovative products and services and promote German-Chinese cooperation.
How has your company developed after three years in Bavaria? Do you work with local partners? If so, how does the collaboration work?
LiangDao employs a total of 40 people to do, which we had always hoped for. The coronavirus pandemic has of course hit us. During the difficult period we had reduced working hours for half a year. However, the Bavarian state government did not let us down and provided us with strong support through funding programmes. Now the economy is in recovery and we can look forward to a profit again this year. The collaboration with our customers such as Audi and BMW is also running smoothly. I attached great importance to transparent and open communication at eye level. In addition, our technology expertise and intercultural skills are unique selling propositions that have helped us build trusting collaboration with local partners.
LiangDao was able to benefit from a federal funding programme last year. What exactly does the funding look like and how did you manage to get it?
We won two major funding programmes this year. One from the Federal Ministry of Economics on the topic of artificial intelligence for testing and validating autonomous vehicles and the other from the Federal Ministry of Research and Education on the topic of simulation and digital twins. In both programmes, LiangDao has the task of leading a sub-project and contributing to its successful implementation. The “secrets” are transparency, openness and passion. This has helped us in numerous discussions with project partners, promoters and funders. I would like to encourage start-ups to actively seek discussions with project sponsors and build a partner network for funding projects. The role as a start-up should be an asset for funding programmes, not the other way around.
The coronavirus pandemic has permanently changed the professional and corporate world. How is your company dealing with the crisis?
In my opinion, the word “crisis” also has two meanings, because opportunity can also arise from crisis. During the crisis, all employees worked from but productivity was not affected. The team’s cohesion has become stronger through the crisis. In future, we will continue to offer remote working options to all colleagues.
The Munich location is to be expanded despite the coronavirus crisis. How many jobs will this create? Do you benefit from Bavaria’s strong university and higher education landscape when recruiting?
Yes, definitely. We want to continue recruiting staff for the Munich location in the coming months. Thanks to the cooperation with Munich universities such as the Technical University, Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität and Munich University of Applied Sciences, we have already been able to attract several young engineers to the company. It is equally important to seek and intensify contacts with upcoming talent at an early stage. To this end, we participate in various university job fairs and cooperate with chairs by supervising Bachelor and Master theses.
How do you cope with your Chinese background in everyday working life in Germany? Are there major differences between Chinese and Bavarian corporate culture?
I feel very comfortable in both cultures and try to build a bridge between them and bring them together. As mentioned, I attach great importance to respect in communication as equals, transparency and openness, objectivity and down-to-earthness, empathy for each other and a passion for continuous improvement. In my opinion, these qualities are common to all cultures and are the basis for long-term collaboration.
You have lived and studied in Germany for several years and have now co-founded a start-up and gained a foothold. What advice do you have for Chinese companies that want to expand to Bavaria?
My observation is that many Chinese companies in Germany are rather reserved. It is important to actively seek dialogue with local partners and to have a presence in the German media. Chinese companies have the expertise in China that is in high demand in Germany, and this should be used – both sides will benefit from this. I would like to encourage Chinese companies to be open and to enter into dialogue, and above all to try to integrate into German society.
Keyword work-life balance: where do you like to spend your free time in Bavaria? Do you have a favourite place, such as the mountains or the lakes?
In the last 14 years I have experienced many unforgettable moments at the lakes and in the mountains in Bavaria. For me, Bavaria is enchanting, not only because there are many green spaces and parks in the city, but also because of the magnificent Alpine landscape. You won’t find this quality of life in Bavaria anywhere else in Germany.