Robotics investments recap: March 2019

CloudMinds was among the robotics companies receiving funding in March 2019.

CloudMinds was among the robotics companies receiving funding in March 2019. Source: CloudMinds

Investments in robots, autonomous vehicles, and related systems totaled at least $1.3 billion in March 2019, down from $4.3 billion in February. On the other hand, automation companies reported $7.8 billion in mergers and acquisitions last month. While that may represent a slowdown, note that many businesses did not specify the amounts involved in their transactions, of which there were at least 58 in March.

Self-driving cars and trucks — including machine learning and sensor technologies — continued to receive significant funding. Although Lyft’s initial public offering was not directly related to autonomous vehicles, it illustrates the investments flowing for transportation.

Other use cases represented in March 2019 included surgical robotics, industrial automation, and service robots. See the table below, which lists amounts in millions of dollars where they were available:

Company Amt. (M$) Type Lead investor, partner, acquirer Date Technology
Airbiquity 15 investment Denso Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Toyota Tsushu Corp. March 12, 2019 connected vehicles
AROMA BIT Inc. 2.2 Series A Sony Innovation Fund March 3, 2019 olofactory sensors
AtomRobot Series B1 Y&R Capital March 5, 2019 industrial automation
Automata 7.4 Series A ABB March 19, 2019 robot arm
Avidbots 23.6 Series B True Ventures March 21, 2019 commercial floor cleaning
Boranet Series A Gobi Partners March 6, 2019 IIoT, machine vision
Broadmann17 11 Series A OurCrowd March 6, 2019 deep learning, autonomous vehicles
Cloudminds 300 investment SoftBank Vision Fund March 26, 2019 service robots
Corindus 4.8 private placement March 12, 2019 surgical robot
Determined AI 11 Series A GV (Google Ventures) March 13, 2019 AI, deep learning
Emergen Group 29 Series B Qiming Venture Partners March 13, 2019 industrial automation
Fabu Technology pre-Series A Qingsong Fund March 1, 2019 autonomous vehicles
Fortna recapitalization Thomas H. Lee PArtners LP March 27, 2019 materlais handling
ForwardX 14.95 Series B Hupang Licheng Fund March 21, 2019 autonomous mobile robots
Gaussian Robotics 14.9 Series B Grand Flight Investment March 20, 2019 cleaning
Hangzhou Guochen Robot Technology 15 Series A Hongcheng Capital, Yingshi Fund (YS Investment) March 13, 2019 robotics R&D
Hangzhou Jimu Technology Co. Series B Flyfot Ventures March 6, 2019 autonomous vehicles
InnerSpace 3.2 seed BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Fund March 26, 2019 IoT
Innoviz Technologies 132 Series C China Merchants Capital, Shenzhen Capital Group, New Alliance Capital March 26, 2019 lidar
Intelligent Marking investment Benjamin Capital March 6, 2019 autonomous robots for marking sports fields
Kaarta Inc. 6.5 Series A GreenSoil Building Innovation Fund March 21, 2019 lidar mapping
Kolmostar Inc. 10 Series A March 5, 2019 positioning technology
Linear Labs 4.5 seed Science Inc., Kindred Ventures March 26, 2019 motors
MELCO Factory Automation Philippines Inc. 2.38 new division Mitsubishi Electric Corp. March 12, 2019 industrial automation
Monet Technologies 4.51 joint venture Honda Motor Co., Hino Motors Ltd., SoftBank Corp., Toyota Motor Corp March 28, 2019 self-driving cars
Ouster 60 investment Runway Growth Capital, Silicon Valley Bank March 25, 2019 lidar
Pickle Robot Co. 3.5 equity sale March 4, 2019 loading robot
Preteckt 2 seed Los Olas Venture Capital March 26, 2019 machine learning automotive
Radar 16 investment Sound Ventures, NTT Docomo Ventures, Align Ventures, Beanstalk Ventures, Colle Capital, Founders Fund Pathfinder, Novel TMT March 28, 2019 RFID inventory management
Revvo (IntelliTire) 4 Series A Norwest Venture Partners March 26, 2019 smart tires
Shanghai Changren Information Technology 14.89 Series A March 15, 2019 Xiaobao healthcare robot
TakeOff Technologies Inc. equity sale March 26, 2019 grocery robots
TartanSense 2 seed Omnivore, Blume Ventures, BEENEXT March 11, 2019 weeding robot
Teraki 2.3 investment Horizon Ventures, American Family Ventures March 27, 2019 AI, automotive electronics
Think Surgical 134 investment March 11, 2019 surgical robot
Titan Medical 25 IPO March 22, 2019 surgical robotics
TMiRob Series B+ Shanghai Zhangjiang Torch Venture Capital March 26, 2019 hospital robot
TOYO Automation Co. investment Yamaha Motor Co. March 20, 2019 actuators
Ubtech investment Liangjiang Capital March 6, 2019 humanoid
Vintra 4.8 investment Bonfire Ventures, Vertex Ventures, London Venture Partners March 11, 2019 machine vision
Vtrus 2.9 investment March 8, 2019 drone inspection
Weltmeister Motor 450 Series C Baidu Inc. March 11, 2019 self-driving cars

And here are the mergers and acquisitions:

March 2019 robotics acquisitions

Company Amt. (M$) Acquirer Date Technology
Accelerated Dynamics Animal Dynamics 3/8/2019 AI, drone swarms
Astori AS 4Subsea 3/19/2019 undersea control systems
Brainlab Smith & Nephew 3/12/2019 surgical robot
Figure Eight 175 Appen Ltd. 3/10/2019 AI, machine learning
Floating Point FX CycloMedia 3/7/2019 machine vision, 3D modeling
Florida Turbine Technologies 60 Kratos Defense and Security Solutions 3/1/2019 drones
Infinity Augmented Reality Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. 3/21/2019 AR, machine vision
Integrated Device Technology Inc. 6700 Renesas 3/30/2019 self-driving vehicle processors
Medineering Brainlab 3/20/2019 surgical
Modern Robotics Inc. 0.97 Boxlight Corp. 3/14/2019 STEM
OMNI Orthopaedics Inc. Corin Group 3/6/2019 surgical robotics
OrthoSpace Ltd. 220 Stryker Corp. 3/14/2019 surgical robotics
Osiris Therapeutics 660 Smith & Nephew 3/12/2019 surgical robotics
Restoration Robotics Inc. 21 Venus Concept Ltd. 3/15/2019 surgical robotics
Sofar Ocean Technologies 7 Spoondrift, OpenROV 3/28/2019 underwater drones, sensors
Torc Robotics Inc. Daimler Trucks and Buses Holding Inc. 3/29/2019 driverless truck software

Surgical robots make the cut

One of the largest transactions reported in March 2019 was Smith & Nephew’s purchase of Osiris Therapeutics for $660 million. However, some Osiris shareholders are suing to block the acquisition because they believe the price that U.K.-based Smith & Nephew is offering is too low. The shareholders’ confidence reflects a hot healthcare robotics space, where capital, consolidation, and chasing new applications are driving factors.

In the meantime, Stryker Corp. bought sports medicine provider OrthoSpace Ltd. for $220 million. The market for sports medicine will experience a compound annual growth rate of 8.9% between now and 2023, predicts Market Research Future.

Freemont, Calif.-based Think Surgical raised $134 million for its robot-assisted orthopedic surgical device, and Titan Medical closed a $25 million public offering last month.

Venus Concept Ltd. merged with hair-implant provider Restoration Robotics for $21 million, and Shanghai Changren Information Technology raised Series A funding of $14.89 million for its Xiaobao healthcare robot.

Corindus Vascular Robotics Inc. added $5 million to the $15 million it had raised the month before. Brainlab acquired Medineering and was itself acquired by Smith & Nephew.

Driving toward automation in March 2019

Aside from Lyft, the biggest reported transportation robotics transaction in March 2019 was Renesas’ completion of its $6.7 billion purchase of Integrated Device Technology Inc. for its self-driving car chips.

The next biggest deal was Weltmeister Motor’s $450 million Series C, in which Baidu Inc. participated.

Lidar also got some support, with Innoviz Technologies raising $132 million in a Series C round, and Ouster raising $60 million. In a prime example of how driverless technology is “paying a peace dividend” to other applications, Google parent Alphabet’s Waymo unit offered its custom lidar sensors to robotics, security, and agricultural companies.

Automakers recognize the need for 3-D modeling, sensors, and software for autonomous vehicles to navigate safely and accurately. A Daimler unit acquired Torc Robotics Inc., which is working on driverless trucks, and CycloMedia acquired machine vision firm Floating Point FX. The amounts were not specified.

Speaking of machine learning, Appen Ltd. acquired dataset annotation company Figure Eight for $175 million, with an possible $125 million more based on 2019 performance. Denso Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. contributed $15 million to Airbiquity, which is working on connected vehicles.

Service robots clean up

From retail to cleaning and customer service, the combination of improving human-machine interactions, ongoing staffing turnover and shortages, and companies with round-the-clock operations has contributed to investor interest.

The SoftBank Vision Fund participated in a $300 million round for CloudMinds. The Chinese AI and robotics company’s XR-1 is a humanoid service robot, and it also makes security robots and connects robots to the cloud.

According to its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, TakeOff Technologies Inc. raised an unspecified amount for its grocery robots, an area that many observers expect to grow as consumers become more accustomed to getting home deliveries.

On the cleaning side, Avidbots raised $23.6 million in Series B, led by True Ventures. Gaussian Robotics’ Series B was $14.9 million, with participation from Grand Flight Investment.

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Wrapping up Q1 2019

China’s efforts to develop its domestic robotics industry continued, as Emergen Group’s $29 million Series B round was the largest reported investment in industrial automation last month.

Hangzhou Guochen Robot Technology raised $15 million in Series A funding for robotics research and development and integration.

That was followed by ABB’s participation in Series A funding of $7.4 million for Automata, which makes a small collaborative robot arm named Ava. Mitsubishi Electric Corp. said it’s spending $2.38 million to set up a new company, MELCO Factory Automation Philippines Inc., because it expects to grow its business there to $30 million by 2026.

Data startup Spopondrift and underwater drone maker OpenROV merged to form Sofar Ocean Technologies. The new San Francisco company also announced a Series A round of $7 million. Also, 4Subsea acquired underwater control systems maker Astori AS.

In the aerial drone space, Kratos Defense and Security Solutions acquired Florida Turbine Technologies for $60 million, and Vtrus raised $2.9 million for commercializing drone inspections. Drone inspection provider Kespry raised unspecified funding from Salesforce Ventures. Kaarta Inc., which makes a lidar for indoor mapping, raised $6.5 million.

The Robot Report broke the news of Aria Insights, formerly known as CyPhy Works, shutting down in March 2019.


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 venture capital firms, corporate investment groups, angel investors, and other sources. Friends-and-family investments, government/non-governmental 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 (that sense, think, and act in the physical world), hardware or software subsystems and enabling technologies for robots, 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 “robot” to describe products and services that that do not enable or support devices acting in the physical world, are excluded. For example, this includes “software robots” and robotic process automation. Many firms have multiple locations in different countries. Company locations given in the analysis are based on the publicly listed headquarters in legal documents, press releases, etc.

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

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