10 most funded robotics companies of 2018

robotics

Uber self-driving car. (Credit: Uber)

Funding does not guarantee success. That is a lesson the robotics industry learned the hard way in 2018. Rethink Robotics, which raised $149.5 million in funding, shut down in October. Airware and Jibo suffered a similar fate this year after burning through $114 million and $73 million, respectively.

Nonetheless, raising money plays a vital role in companies being able to scale and innovate. We will have an in-depth recap of 2018 robotics investments in the first quarter of 2019, but safe to say 2018 was a phenomenal year investment-wise for the robotics industry, led by companies developing self-driving cars, logistics automation and enabling technologies.

The original purpose of this article was to list the top 10 individual funding rounds of 2018, but Cruise Automation, SenseTime and Uber would have filled eight of those spots. So we broadened it. Five of the top 10 companies we tracked are based in the United States (four in California, one in Massachusetts), while China is home to four of the most-funded companies and the United Kingdom had one.

Not surprisingly, three self-driving car companies made the list, raising a combined $5.25 billion over six rounds for an average round of $875 million.

The most surprising company on the list is China’s UBTech Robotics, a toy robot company that raised $820 million in May. Two companies working in logistics automation, China’s JD.com and the UK’s Ocado, made the list, while Auris Health rounds out the top 10 with $220 million.

The list of companies just on the outside of the Top 10 is also quite impressive. Some notable companies not on the list: Pony.ai (raised $214 million), Bright Machines ($179 million), Geek+ ($150 million), GreyOrange ($140 million), Procept Biorobotics ($111 million) and Boxed ($111 million).

Those aforementioned companies still had impressive years funding-wise, but they did not fare as well as the following 10 most well-funded robotics companies of 2018.

10 most well-funded robotics companies of 2018

1. Uber: $3.1B

How much did the fatal self-driving car accident hurt Uber? Well, not only has Uber resumed testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads, but the company raised $3.1 billion in 2018 – and all of it came after the fatal incident. The $500 million from Toyota in August was specifically to co-develop autonomous vehicles. Uber also raised $2 billion in October in its first-ever bond offering and $600 million in a secondary round in May.

  • Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
  • Founded: 2009
  • Rounds: $2B in debt financing (Oct 18); $500M Corporate Round from Toyota (August 27); $600M Secondary Round (May 23)
  • Market: autonomous vehicles

After a 9-month hiatus, Uber’s self-driving cars resumed autonomous on-road testing in Pittsburgh, which followed approval from Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation for Uber to test the vehicles on state roads. Of course, Pittsburgh was the first city to host Uber’s self-driving cars and is home to Uber’s autonomous vehicle headquarters.

2. SenseTime: $2.2B

SenseTime, based in Beijing, China, is the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) unicorn and the largest pure-play AI company focused on computer vision and deep learning. It had quite the 2018, raising $2.2 billion at a valuation of more than $6 billion. In September it closed a $1 billion Series D round from SoftBank’s Shanghai affiliate SoftBank China Venture Capital.

  • Headquarters: Beijing, China
  • Founded: 2014
  • Rounds: $1B Series D; $620M Series C+; $600M Series C
  • Date Announced: Sept. 18 (Series D); May 31 (Series C+); April 9 (Series C)
  • Lead Investor(s): Softbank China (Series D); Fidelity International (Series C+); Alibaba Group (Series C)
  • Market: AI

And in less than two months it closed $1.2 billion via Series C and Series C+ rounds from Alibaba Group and Fidelity International, respectively. SenseTime has developed a deep learning platform, supercomputing centers, and a range of AI technologies such as face recognition, image recognition, object recognition, text recognition, medical image analysis, video analysis, autonomous driving and remote sensing. The company boasts more than 700 customers and partners in China and overseas, including MIT, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Honda, Alibaba, Suning, China Mobile, UnionPay, Wanda, Xiaomi, OPPO, vivo, Weibo.

3. Cruise Automation: $1.65B

In an incredible display of the interest level surrounding self-driving cars, Cruise Automation, the San Francisco-based self-driving unit of General Motors, closed $1.65 billion in funding in 2018 thanks to major investments from Honda and the Softbank Vision Fund. In May 2018, the SoftBank Vision Fund announced a two-part investment in Cruise that could total $2.25 billion when all is said and done. The first phase of $900 million was invested immediately, while the remaining $1.35 billion is contingent on two things: regulatory approval and commercial deployment of Cruise’s self-driving cars.

  • Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
  • Founded: 2013
  • Rounds: $900M Corporate Round (Softbank Vision Fund); $750M equity investment (Honda)
  • Date Announced: Corporate Round: May 31, 2018; Equity Round: October 3
  • Lead Investor(s): Softbank Vision Fund
  • Market: autonomous vehicles

Cruise partnered with Honda in early October to “develop a purpose-built autonomous vehicle for Cruise that can serve a wide variety of use cases and be manufactured at high volume for global deployment.” Honda paid $750 million upfront and will contribute another $2 billion over 12 years in development work and fees. All in all, Honda will investment $2.75 billion in Cruise. In addition to SoftBank’s investments, this transaction brought Cruise’s valuation to $14.6 billion.

4. PTC: $1B

Rockwell Automation, the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation, made a $1 billion equity investment in PTC, an automation control software provider to government and industry. The goal is to “accelerate growth for both companies and enable them to be the partner of choice for customers around the world who want to transform their physical operations with digital technology.”

  • Headquarters: Needham, Mass.
  • Founded: 1985
  • Round: $1B post-IPO Equity
  • Date Announced: June 11
  • Lead Investor(s): Rockwell Automation
  • Market: industrial automation

As part of the deal, the two agreed to align their respective smart factory technologies and industrial automation platforms. PTC is a well-established player in both CAD software and PLM software, two important parts of the enterprise-level control stack within automation space. PTC is also quickly growing its industrial IoT portfolio, which includes ThingWorx, Kepware and Vuforia.

5. UBTech Robotics: $820M Series C

UBTech Robotics, a Chinese toy robot builder, raised $820 million in a Series C funding round led by Tencent Holdings, with participation from Green Pine Capital, Haier Group, Minsheng Securities, CDH Investments and Telstra.

  • Headquarters: Shenzhen, China
  • Founded: 2012
  • Round: $820M Series C
  • Date Announced: May 3, 2018
  • Lead Investor(s): Tencent Holdings
  • Market: consumer robotics

UBTech has raised a total of $940 million to date, and the Series C round brought the company’s valuation to about $5 billion. UBTech said the money would be used to develop adult-sized humanoid robots and will focus particularly on the R&D of servo systems, movement control algorithms for walking, and computer vision.

6. JD: $550M

JD, the Chinese equivalent to Amazon and China’s second-largest e-commerce provider, raised $550 million from Google. Like Amazon, JD is heavy in the automated logistics business. JD is also involved in last mile deliveries and just launched 20 mobile robot carts in the Beijing area (each robot can deliver up to 30 different parcels).

  • Headquarters: Beijing, China
  • Founded: 1998
  • Round: $550M
  • Date Announced: June 18
  • Lead Investor(s): Alphabet
  • Market: logistics automation

Google has been partnering and investing in smart logistics, online grocery shopping, virtual assistant shopping and same day delivery and this investment in JD adds to that effort.

7. Zoox: $500M

Zoox, a developer of electric, autonomous vehicles for its own ride-hailing service, received $500M in a Series B round led by Grok Ventures. With this investment the company has received $790M in total funding.

  • Headquarters: Foster City, Calif.
  • Founded: 2014
  • Round: $500M Series B
  • Date Announced: July 8
  • Lead Investor(s): Grok Ventures
  • Market: autonomous vehicles

Zoox’s plan is to deploy autonomous vehicles by 2020 in the form of its own ride-hailing service. The cars themselves will be all-electric and fully autonomous, the company said.

8. Ocado: $440M

Ocado, the UK leader in home-delivered groceries using robot-run distribution centers, established a licensing deal with US grocery chain Kroger. Kroger purchased a 5% stake in Ocado – an investment valued at ~$247.5 million and Ocado will help Kroger set up systems to help it manage online ordering, fulfillment and delivery operations.

  • Headquarters: Hatfield, United Kingdom
  • Founded: 2000
  • Rounds: $247.5M from Kroger on May 17; $192.5M on Feb. 6
  • Lead Investor(s): Kroger
  • Market: logistics automation

Ocado also raised $192.5 million in February by selling shares of it’s publicly traded stock. Ocado invested $57.5 million on technology last year, up from $46 million the previous year. The company is developing proprietary technology and has also increased its tech staff to 1,100. The company uses about 500 robots interacting with each other on a grid which have allowed it to process more than 20,000 orders.

9. Yitu Technology: $300M

Yitu Technology, based in Shanghai, offers technology that uses computer vision, intelligent imaging, and video understanding to recognize human faces, automobiles and more. It raised $200 million in Series C funding in June from ICBC International Holdings, SPDB International and Gaocheng Capital. Then in July, it closed another $100 million in an extended C Round from China Industrial Asset Management.

  • Headquarters: Shanghai, China
  • Founded: 2012
  • Rounds: $200M Series C on June 12 from ICBC International Holdings, SPDB International and Gaocheng Capital; $100M Extended Series C from China Industrial Asset Management
  • Market: AI

10. Auris Health: $220M

Auris Health, the lone healthcare robotics company on the list, closed a $220 million Series E to support its next-generation Monarch robotic interventional platform. The funding round brings the total raised for the Auris Health Monarch surgical platform to more than $700 million over four rounds, Auris Health said.

  • Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.
  • Founded: 2007
  • Round:$220M Series E
  • Date Announced: November 28
  • Lead Investor(s): Partner Fund Management
  • Market: healthcare robotics

Auris Health said the round was led by Partner Fund Management and joined by newly invested Wellington Management, D1 Capital Partners and Senator Investment Group and existing investors Mithril Capital, Lux Capital and Viking Global Investors.


Editors Note: What defines robotics investments? The answer to this simple question is central in any attempt to quantify robotics investments with some degree of rigor. To make investment analyses consistent, repeatable and valuable, it is critical to wring out as much subjectivity as possible during the evaluation process. This begins with a definition of terms and a description of assumptions.

Investors and Investing
Investment should come from VC firms, corporate investment groups, angel investors, and other sources. Friends-and-family investments, government/NGA agency grants, and crowd sourced funding are excluded.

Robotics and Intelligent Systems Companies
Robotics companies must generate, or expect to generate, revenue from the production of robotics products (sense, think and act in the physical world), enabling technologies for robots and robotics subsystems (HW or SW), or services supporting robotics devices. For this analysis, autonomous vehicles (including technologies that support autonomous driving) and drones are considered robots, while 3D printers, CNC systems, and various types of ‘hard’ automation are not.

Companies that are ‘robotic’ in name only, or use the term ‘robotic’ to describe products and services that that do not enable/support devices acting in the physical world, are excluded (ex. “software robots”, “robotic process automation”, etc.). Many firms have multiple locations in different countries. Company locations given in the analysis are based on the country publicly listed as headquarters in legal documents, press releases etc.

Verification
Funding information is collected from a number of public and private sources. These included press releases from corporations and investment groups, corporate briefings, association and industry publications, along with sessions at conferences and seminars, and during private interviews with industry representatives, investors, and others. Unverifiable investments are excluded.

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