Robot Investments Weekly: Spring Brings AI Funding and Support for Drones, Running Robots

DJI Mavic Air drone. Credit: DJI

March 23, 2018      

Spring officially started this week, although to many in the Northeast U.S., it didn’t matter as they continued to shovel out from a rash of March snowstorms. In the robotics investment space, the new season meant AI funding for several companies, as well as funding for robotics and 3D printing systems.

These investments and more can be found in the RBR Transactions Database, which lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type. So let’s “Spring Forward” and look at the latest investments!

AI funding continues to flow

Companies developing any type of artificial intelligence and machine learning or utilizing big data continue to generate interest from investors. Sift Science, which uses AI for fraud detection, scored $53 million in a Series D round of funding, led by Stripes Group, with participation from previous investors Union Square Ventures, Spark Capital, and Insight Venture Partners. The company said it has now raised $107 million for its fraud-detection platform, which combines big data and machine learning to detect payment fraud, fake accounts, content abuse, and other threat vectors.

Sift Science said more than 6,000 sites and apps, including Twitter, Airbnb, Yelp, Indeed, and Shutterstock, use its Digital Trust Platform to help root out fraud and abuse attacks.

As the world continues to see online threats from many different sources, detection systems that rely on big data, AI, and machine learning can help companies keep a handle on them and prevent them from doing long-term damage.

Biopharmaceutical firm twoXAR said this week it raised $10 million in Series A funding, led by SoftBank Ventures, along with the Andreessen Horowitz Bio Fund and OS Fund. The company previously raised $4.3 million in seed financing from Andreessen Horowitz, CLI Ventures, and the Stanford-StartX Fund.

TwoXAR said it uses AI to rapidly identify drug candidates for testing in weeks instead of years to help patients suffering from liver cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 2 diabetes.

“The application of AI in drug discovery has shifted from speculative to practical and will be a major driver of drug development efficiencies in the biopharmaceutical industry,” said Andrew A. Raidin, co-founder and CEO of twoXAR, in a statement announcing the AI funding. Since traditional drug discovery and development takes between 10 and 15 years, the company said, it wants to create more predictive models that can accelerate the process.

Putting AI on a chip is the goal of Mythic, which this week announced a $40 million Series B round, led by SoftBank Ventures. This AI funding included participation from new and existing investors, including DFJ, Lux Capital, Data Collective, Lockheed Martin Ventures, Andy Bechtolsheim, and AME Cloud Ventures.

The company said its chips “perform computation inside memory cells, using analog currents and flash memory to perform the arithmetic of AI inference on a massive scale.” This brings computing power from a cloud-based data center down to embedded devices or other machines, including drones, robots, cars, and AR/VR devices, Mythic said.

The company said its technology offers many use cases, and “will power the golden age of AI and enable new smart devices that haven’t been dreamed yet.”

Other recent AI funding and transactions includes the following:

Drone maker DJI looking for huge investments

Several media outlets reported this week that China’s DJI Technology Co., the world’s largest non-military drone maker, was talking with investors for at least $500 million in funding ahead of a stock market debut. With the additional funding, reports said the company would be valued at about $15 billion, nearly double its 2015 valuation.

The reports said the company wants to expand its drones into other markets, including agriculture, energy, construction, and infrastructure inspection. The company holds about 70% of the global commercial and consumer drone market, the news report stated.

While DJI wants money to build more drones, another company got money to help defend against threatening drones. Airspace Systems, which makes drone defense systems, recently raised $20 million in Series A funding, led by Singtel Innov8, along with s28 Capital, Shasta Ventures, and Granite Hill Capital Partners.

The company said it will use the money to produce its Airspace Command Center, a drone defense system that uses machine vision, autonomous navigation, and embedded systems technologies.

Run, run robot!

A robotics company that spun out of research at Oregon State University announced $8 million in funding to advance its work on robots that can walk and run more like humans. Agility Robotics said it wants to develop robots that can perform tasks inside the home and to do “cumbersome or dangerous tasks in the real world.” Tasks for these new robots include war zone scouting, assisting with forest fire fighting, and even delivering packages, Agility said.

Investment company Playground Global helped lead the funding round, joined by the Sony Innovation Fund and previous investor Robotics Hub.

Oregon State first developed a robot called ATRIAS in its robotics lab, which was able to “reproduce the dynamics of the human gait.” Another robot, Cassie, continued that work.

Jonathan Hurst, Agility’s founder and associate professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State, said the company has 10 employees now, with plans to double that over the next year.

Metal-based 3D printing firm gets funds, files lawsuit

Burlington, Mass.-based Desktop Metal had an interesting week. On March 19, the company announced $65 million in new financing, led by Ford Motor Co. The company aims to help accelerate the growth of its end-to-end metal 3D printing systems. Desktop Metal has raised $277 million since its inception, the company said.

Later in the week, the company filed a patent infringement and trade secrets misappropriation lawsuit against another 3D printing company, Markforged. Desktop Metal alleged that a former print lab technician at Desktop Metal had stolen proprietary documents and shared them with his brother, a senior engineer at Markforged.

Wrapping up other recent investments

While we’re waiting for the snow to melt on the lawn, here are additional robotics and AI funding news items: