Robotics investments recap: April 2019

Robotics investments recap: April 2019

In April 2019, Johnson & Johnson completed its acquisition of robotics surgery provider Auris Health Inc. Source: Auris Health

In the past month, funding continued to fuel autonomous vehicle companies, as well as robots for the supply chain, manufacturing, and healthcare industries. Developers, startups, investors, and established automation companies should be aware of the latest robot investments, which indicate which technologies and use cases are getting the most attention — and competition. In April 2019, The Robot Report tracked about $7 billion in transactions, including at least 30 reported investments.

That total, which doesn’t include the unspecified amounts of several deals, is up from $1.3 billion in March, but there were fewer mergers and acquisitions in April 2019. Several industry observers have noted that big investments in artificial intelligence and self-driving cars may obscure the declining number of non-governmental small investments in robotics startups. Several of the recent high-profile shutdowns were blamed on last-minute collapses in funding negotiations.

At the same time, global political and economic uncertainty subsided over the course of the month, with the deferment of “Brexit” to October and trade talks continuing between the U.S. and China. Many industrial robotics customers have realized that they need to invest in efficiency, regardless of upcoming elections. Interest in more affordable sensors, more interoperable software, and new or expanded applications for mobile platforms and robotic manipulation continued to drive overall market growth in April 2019.

The table below lists Aamounts in millions of U.S. dollars where they were available:

Robotics investments April 2019

Company Amt. (M$) Type Lead investor, partner, acquirer Date Technology
Affectiva 26 investment Aptiv PLC, Trend Forward Capital, Motley Fool Ventures, CAC April 11, 2019 facial recognition
Agerris 6.5 investment Uniseed, Carthona Capital, BridgeLane Group April 9, 2019 precision agriculture
Augean Robotics 1.5 seed ffVC, S2G Ventures, Radicle Growth April 2, 2019 agriculture cobot
Ava Robotics Inc. 2.9 equity sale April 22, 2019 telepresence
Black Sesame Technologies (Shanghai) Co. 100 Series B Junhai Chuangxin April 12, 2019 image processing AI
BlinkAI Technologies Inc. 1.2 stock sale April 22, 2019 AI, sensors
C-Motive Technologies 2 investment Prime Impact Fund April 3, 2019 electric motors
DroneBase Inc. investment Flir Systems Inc. April 10, 2019 security drone
Gecko Robotics Inc. 9.12 equity sale April 30, 2019 industrial inspection
Hawkeye Technology Co. investment NXP Semiconductors Ltd. April 17, 2019 automotive radar
HDS Global 10 investment Ingram Micro Inc. April 25, 2019 AI, mobile robots
HistoSonics 54 Series C Varian Medical, Johnson & Johnson April 8, 2019 therapeutic robots
Imandra Inc. 5 seed AlbionVC, IQ Capital, LiveOak Venture Partners April 18, 2019 AI, self-driving cars
JAKA Robot 15 Series B SAIF Partners April 9, 2019 collaborative robot
Landing AI, Untether AI, Cloudpick, Medical Informatics, Polystream, Pixeom, Tibit Communications, 117 investment Intel Capital April 1, 2019 AI
Locus Robotics Corp. 26 Series C Scale Venture Partners, Zebra Ventures April 22, 2019 mobile robot
Mobile Virtual Player LLC 2.1 equity sale April 23, 2019 robotic tackle dummies
Neewee Analytics Pvt. Ltd. investment IIFL Asset Management Ltd. April 15, 2019 AI, machine learning
Nullmax pre-Series A Desay SV Automotive Electronics Co. April 16, 2019 self-driving cars
OnScale 10 Series A Intel Capital, Gradient Ventures April 2, 2019 simulation software
Optimus Ride Inc. 20.7 equity sale April 22, 2019 self-driving cars
Oriient 4 seed F2 Capital, innogy Innovation Hub April 25, 2019 indoor navigation
Phantom Auto 19 Series A Bessemer Venture Partners April 18, 2019 teleoperated vehicles
proteanTecs investment Intel Capital April 2, 2019 chip telemetry
Roadfend 14.88 Series B1 April 8, 2019 facial recognition
Slingshot Aerospace 5 seed ATX Venture Partners April 17, 2019 AI, navigation
TerraClear Inc. 4.7 investment April 19, 2019 ground-clearing robot
Uber ATG 1000 investment SoftBank Vision Fund, Toyota Motor Corp., DENSO Corp. April 18, 2019 self-driving cars
Zhuhai EEasy Technology Co. investment Intel Capital April 2, 2019 AI system on chip
ZoomCar India Pvt. Ltd. 500 investment Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. April 3, 2019 self-driving cars

As noted above, there were fewer mergers and acquisitions this past month, but they were still significant:

Robotics acquisitions April 2019

Company Amt. (M$) Acquirer Date Technology
Auris Health Inc. 3400 Johnson & Johnson, Ethicon Inc. 4/1/2019 robotic surgery
Blue Workforce A/S OnRobot A/S 4/15/2019 collaborative robots
Canvas Technology Inc. Inc. 4/11/2019 autonomous mobile robots
JR Automation Technologies LLC 1430 Hitachi Ltd. 4/24/2019 systems integration
Kinema Systems Boston Dynamics 4/2/2019 machine vision
Xevo 320 Lear Corp. 4/2/2019 connected vehicles

Transportation funding rolls on in April 2019

While most financial news outlets have understandably focused on the initial public offerings of ride-sharing companies Lyft Inc. and Uber Technology Inc., the spinoff of Uber ATG (formerly its Advanced Technology Group) marked a new entry into the highly competitive self-driving car race.

Toyota Motor Corp., DENSO Corp., and the SoftBank Vision Fund invested $1 billion to accelerate research and development of autonomous vehicles and help bring them to market. Uber ATG has some catching up to do with Google spinoff Waymo and GM Cruise LLC, in terms of collecting data and logging millions of safely driven miles. However, the size of the funding leaves no doubt that Uber and its partners are determined to catch up.

Other big deals in April 2019 include Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.’s planned $500 million investment into ZoomCar India Pvt. Ltd. Unlike other autonomous car companies, which are building vehicles for purchase or ride-sharing fleets, ZoomCar is working on self-driving rental cars.

Black Sesame Technologies (Shanghai) Co., which provides image-processing algorithms and autopilot systems on a chip that can be used in autonomous vehicles and other consumer electronics, raised close to $100 million in its Series B round.

Optimus Ride Inc., which is testing autonomous vehicles in Boston, raised $20.7 million, according to an SEC filing.

Phantom Auto raised $13.5 million for tele-operated trucks and forklifts. According to Bloomberg, it recognizes that humans will still need to be in the loop for complicated or non-standard situations.

Foundational technologies for self-driving cars, such as sensors and AI, continued to receive financing. Imandra Inc., whose cloud-based “Reasoning as a Service” platform is intended to help make algorithms more explainable, raised $5 million in seed funding.

BlinkAI Technologies Inc. raised $1.1 million in a stock sale for its “imaging intelligence,” which it says can apply to autonomous vehicles, robotics, and industrial sensing. In China, automotive radar company Hawkeye Technology Co. and autonomous vehicle firm Nullmax raised unspecified amounts.

In related technologies, Lear Corp. acquired connected-vehicle startup Xevo Inc. for $320 million. Xevo’s technology is already in 25 million vehicles, mostly in the U.S., while Lear has been an automotive supplier for more than a century, reported Xconomy. Between gathering and sharing data about vehicles on the road and improving the driver and passenger experience, such companies can expect a lot of investor interest this year.

Speaking of the in-cabin experience, facial recognition companies also scored funding in April 2019. Affectiva, whose technology can detect drivers’ emotional states and fatigue levels , raised a Series B of $26 million, while rival Roadfend raised $15 million in its Series B1.

Supply chains to get smarter

Several of the most prominent robotics transactions in April 2019 focused on warehouse automation. Inc., which practically jump-started the market for mobile robots when it acquired Kiva Systems Inc., bought Canvas Technology Inc. for an unspecified amount. Canvas Technology’s “spatial AI” systems enable robots to navigate safely around humans, which could allow Amazon to automate smaller and legacy sites in addition to its giant, purpose-built order-fulfillment facilities.

Boston Dynamics, which is best known for its quadruped and biped robots, acquired Kinema Systems. The startup uses vision sensors and deep learning for robotic manipulation of boxes. Boston Dynamics demonstrated its newly rebranded Pick System at ProMat 2019 in Chicago.

Another Massachusetts company and exhibitor at ProMat, Locus Robotics Corp., raised $26 million. It plans to use the Series C funding for product development and to expand deployments of its mobile robots in Europe, CEO Rick Faulk told The Robot Report.

As with autonomous vehicles, AI is increasingly part of the equation for supply chain robots. HDS Global said it received $10 million from Ingram Micro Inc. to develop RoboFS, “a software-defined, end-to-end fulfillment system combining intelligent vision and AI with mobile and articulated robots that can, from a single installation, support highly flexible and scalable sorting, storage, retrieval and picking in large scale manufacturing and distribution operations.”

Tel Aviv, Israel-based Oriient got $4 million in seed funding for its indoor navigation technology.

Manufacturing still mighty

Just because industrial automation is relatively mature and automotive sales are slowing, don’t count it out as an area for robotics to expand. In fact, one of the biggest transactions of April 2019 was Hitachi Ltd.’s acquisition of JR Automation Technologies LLC for $1.4 billion. Michigan-based JR Automation serves the automotive, aerospace, medical device, pharmaceutical, food processing, and construction industries.

Chinese collaborative robot maker JAKA Robot raised $15 million, and IIFL Asset Management Ltd. acquired a “significant minority stake” in Neewee Analytics Pvt. Ltd., which applies machine learning to manufacturing processes.

Gecko Robotics Inc., which is developing systems for industrial inspection, raised $9.12 million, according to an SEC filing.

Healthcare robots get an assist, agrobotics earns seed funding

In April 2019, Johnson & Johnson completed its acquisition of robotic surgery company Auris Health Inc. for about $3.4 billion. Johnson & Johnson was also among the investors in HistoSonics, which raised a Series C of $54 million for a robotically assisted system that sonically destroys cancerous tissue. Several companies received funding for AI pathology analysis, but that’s not robotics.

Similarly, the tables above do not include government funding, such as Innovate UK’s $655.85 million in support of Fieldwork Robotics, which is working on fruit-picking robots. There were several other investments into agricultural robotics, however.

Australia-based Agerris raised $6.5 million to commercialize its ground robots for precision agriculture, and TerraClear Inc. raised $4.7 million for its ground-clearing robots.

Augean Robotics received $1.5 million in seed funding for its autonomous platforms, which can work alongside human fruit harvesters.

Growing gripper maker OnRobot A/S came to the rescue of Blue Workforce A/S, which had filed for bankruptcy just a week earlier. Blue Workforce makes collaborative robots for the agriculture and food industries. OnRobot acquired its assets and its development team.

Drones, components, and other robots

Slingshot Aerospace raised $5 million in a seed round. It is applying machine learning and big data analytics to geospatial data from a variety of sources including drones for defense, disaster response, and commercial applications such as agriculture.

Meanwhile, FLIR Systems Inc. invested in drone inspection and security provider Drone Base Inc. FLIR received $48.1 million in sensor contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense and $1.8 million from the British army in April 2019. In February, FLIR acquired iRobot spinoff Endeavor Robotics Holdings for $382 million.

Intel Capital has put $117 million into 14 companies, most of which are developing AI, machine learning, and computer vision. Companies recently funded by Intel include Zhuhai EEasy Technology Co., which is developing an AI system on a chip, and proteanTecs, which offers chip telemetry for the Internet of Things.

Intel also participated in OnScale’s $10 million Series A round. OnScale is accelerating development of its Computer-Aided Engineering systems, cloud-based simulation software.

In assorted transactions, telepresence robotics startup Ava Robotics Inc. raised $2.9 million, and C-Motive Technologies raised $2 million for its innovative electric motors. Mobile Virtual Player LLC, which is developing robotic tackle dummies for American football, raised $2.1 million in an equity sale.

Consumer robots still struggle

Continuing a trend from last year, in which social robot makers Jibo Inc. and Mayfield Robotics failed, the two shutdowns of April 2019 were in the consumer robotics space. Unlike some service robots, whose makers have pivoted to healthcare, elder care, or customer service in retail and hospitality, Anki and Seven Dreamers Laboratories Ltd. weren’t able to maximize demand and investor interest.

Seven Dreamers, which had demonstrated its Laundroid laundry-folding robot at CES in Las Vegas for the past few years, filed for bankruptcy. The robot was arguably too large and expensive for home use.

Anki, whose small educational robots displayed an impressive level of AI and human-machine interaction, was forced to lay off its staff of nearly 200 people this week when a funding deal fell through.

When will robots that can move and interact with people and conduct household chores (beyond vacuuming) succeed? We’ll be watching.

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.

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.