One of the key messages of robotics and automation is that these systems perform the tasks that are too “dirty, dull, or dangerous” for humans. Nowhere is that more evident than in infrastructure inspection space, which is increasingly using robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles to find flaws in places where humans risk hurting themselves. Investors are starting to take note of these technologies.
Today, we’re highlighting 18 robotics transactions from recent weeks, but you can always track more investments in the RBR Transactions Database. Our regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type. If you’re an RBR Insider, don’t forget to check out the Q2 Transactions Report, which showcases and analyzes major investment trends for the past three months. It’s free for subscribers to the Insider program.
Infrastructure inspection robots and analytics spark funding
Robots, drones, and other systems that conduct infrastructure inspection of buildings, bridges, pipelines, etc. continue to draw interest from the investment community. Gecko Robotics announced this week that it secured $7 million from a several sources, including Founders Fund, Mark Cuban, The Westly Group, Justin Kan, and Y Combinator.
The company’s wall-crawling robots can scan boiler walls, propane tanks, and scrubbers in locations such as power plants, industrial factories, and other areas where human infrastructure inspection would be dangerous, expensive, or time-consuming.
Industrial analytics provider Canvass Analytics announced closing a $5 million investment round, led by Google’s AI-focused venture fund, Gradient Ventures. The Toronto-based company provides an AI-based analytics platform geared towards getting better data from industrial equipment, using predictive analytics to identify operational improvements “12 times faster than industry-standard solutions.”
The company said it will use the funding as part of its growth strategy, as it “sets out to increase its footprint in Fortune 500 companies across the globe.”
Military continues to fund unmanned systems
The U.S. military continued to fund programs that utilize autonomy for either drones or other systems in recent weeks. Boeing’s Insitu division was awarded a $53.96 million contract to procure four full-rate production, Lot II RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft systems and eight attrition air vehicles — seven for the U.S. Marine Corps and one for the government of Poland.
The contract includes ground control stations, launch and recovery equipment, shipboard equipment kits, and systems engineering and program management support. The work is expected to be complete by June 2019.
The Missile Defense Agency awarded General Atomics and its electromagnetic systems business a $133.9 million contract to develop, integrate, and test a new advanced sensor for use with the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle. For the moment, $7.1 million is being obligated, with work expected to be finished by October 2021.
George Mason University earned a $60.4 million contract to “leverage, build upon and augment the capabilities of the Mobile Unmanned/Manned Distributed Lethality Airborne Network architecture.” Work is expected to be completed by Aug. 14, 2027, and the contract includes money for hardware and software.
Commercial unmanned systems receive investor love
Unmanned, autonomous systems aren’t just limited to the military or infrastructure inspection. Several companies in the commercial space also received investments for technology related to autonomous vehicles.
Mapping startup Carmera announced a $20 million investment from GV, formerly Google Ventures. The company provides mapping and analytics for autonomous vehicle makers, based on data it derives from its other service, telematics, and video monitoring used by professional fleets.
Somerville, Mass.-based WaveSense closed a $3 million seed round this week and also announced its new product, commercialization of its ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system. It said the technology “significantly improves navigation safety and precision on any road by keeping self-driving vehicles precisely in-lane.” This could be valuable for Northeastern and Midwestern cities that experience snowstorms and other weather that can obstruct systems that rely on above-ground technology.
WaveSense said its technology “builds a subterranean fingerprint of roadways and maps and tracks against unique geologic patterns,” scanning up to 10 feet below the road to keep self-driving vehicles on the road. The company added that its system is accurate to within a few centimeters at standard highway speeds, “even during night time whiteout snowstorm conditions.”
St. Petersburg, Fla.-based 5×5 Technologies raised $4.4 million for its drone support software and technology, according to a recent SEC filing. The company provides a system that “expands the capabilities and improves the deliverables of commercial applications, while allowing for the full integration of UAS into the national airspace,” including 3D analytics and DVR recording via drones.
Mergers, acquisitions, etc.
Companies continue to team up with or outright buy other companies in the robotics and automation space. Recent moves include:
- Foxconn Technology acquired Moran Cognitive Technology for its AI systems in the consumer space.
- Stäubli bought a 70% stake in AGV firm WFT.
- Source Code LLC, the portfolio company from JMC Capital Partners, completed “the acquisition of certain assets” of Seattle-based Silicon Mechanics. Source Code provides IT services and manufactures custom-built server and storage devices.
Wrapping up the rest
Here are a bunch of other interesting investments, grant awards and other funding announcements that caught our attention this week:
- BioBeats Secures Funding for AI-Based Wellness Platform
- U.K.’s On the Dot Raises Funds for Last-Mile Delivery Service
- China’s Tiandihui Teams With Italy’s Vailog for Logistics Fund
- Swedish Firm Corebon Raises Funds for Material Tech
- Boxed Teams With Aeon for Bulk Grocery Automation Efforts
- Utah’s Sarcos to Expand Exoskeleton Development
- Michigan Makes $3M in Grants Available for School Robotics Programs
A big thanks to my colleague Eugene Demaitre for taking over last week’s column while I went on vacation. I’m now fresh and ready to go as we gear up for next month’s RoboBusiness 2018 event, in which robot investments will be a hot topic at the show. If you want to see me live and in person, you have to register now! Otherwise, you just get to be with me virtually here, every Friday.