In the first quarter of 2017, robotics funding kept flowing to autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and the chips that power them all. However, drone maker Lily Robotics’ struggles and geopolitical uncertainty cast a shadow over the still-growing robotics industry.
Although investments, mergers, and acquisitions have continued apace among robotics suppliers, there has been some wariness in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. Many companies and countries are waiting to see how President Donald Trump’s immigration, trade and tax policies develop. (Download our Q1 2017 Robotics Transactions Report for the full analysis.)
Spending for the national interest
Despite that economic uncertainty, the U.S. government is moving ahead with robotics funding. In January, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded $80 million to American Robotics, a nonprofit founded by Carnegie Mellon University.
That grant joins $173 million from other organizations for the Advanced Robot Manufacturing Group. It will support research toward improving automation in the aerospace, automotive, composites, electronics, logistics, and textiles industries.
The consortium will be based in Pittsburgh, but millions of dollars will be spread to other high-tech centers such as California and Massachusetts.
In the U.K., vacuum cleaner magnate Sir James Dyson invested $2.5 billion in R&D facilities for AI, robotics, energy storage, and vision systems at a former Royal Air Force Base.
Big players pledge service, mobile robotics funding
Other than iRobot, there are few household names in robotics, but that could soon change, thanks to service robots such as SoftBank’s humanoid Pepper.
Apple Inc. pledged $1 billion to SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund, which has the bold goal of helping SoftBank become “the world’s No. 1 robotics company.” Qualcomm, Foxconn, and Oracle have reportedly pledged $1 billion each, and Saudi Arabia has said it will contribute $45 billion.
In February, Lux Capital closed its fifth startup fund at $400 million. That fund has invested in startups in 3D printing and autonomous ground and marine vehicles.
Cars and chips still popular
Continuing a trend we observed last year, chipmakers continued to show interest in self-driving cars and artificial intelligence as the next big users of their technology.
For instance, chipmaker Intel Corp. spent $15.3 billion on Mobileye NV, a major supplier of machine-vision technology for driver-assist features.
Intel is also spent $100 million on the Responsive Retail Platform, which plans to apply Internet of Things capabilities to improve the shopper experience.
Also, Belgian-German chipmaker X-Fab Silicon Foundries SE announced an initial public offering of $350 million. Its chips are intended for sensors to assist smartphone users and motorists.
Toyota Industries Corp. paid $260 million for systems integrator Bastian Solutions LLC and established its Toyota Advanced Logistics Solutions unit.
In another internal development, Siemens plans to spend $22 million building a workforce training program for Industry 4.0.
Elsewhere in robotics funding, Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC got $243 million from Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency, for research into autonomous marine vessels.
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More on Robotics Funding:
- EU, U.K. Automation Expert Says Robots Aren’t the Enemy
- Danish Robot Company Blue Workforce Expands in Asia
- BluHaptics Raises $1.36M for Subsea Robotics Software
- The 2017 RBR50 List Names Robotics Industry Leaders, Innovators
- Intuition Robotics Receives Funding From iRobot and OurCrowd
- Robotics Investments Continue to Surge in Q4 2016
- Biggest Robotics Acquisitions, Deals of 2016 Reveal Industry Ambitions
- Robotics, AI, and Automation Transform the Workplace
- How Well Did Our 2016 Robots and Markets Predictions Do?
- Go Forward, but Go Slowly With IIoT, Say Experts
Chinese companies on the move
Chinese companies continued offering robotics funding for capabilities to balance its manufacturing market.
In addition, Chinese AI startup CloudMinds Inc. raised $100 million in its Series A round. Investors included SoftBank, and CloudMinds wants to build the cloud-based “brains” for robots.
Not to be left behind, Ford Motor Co. paid $1 billion for Argo AI. Pittsburgh-based Argo AI is developing systems for Ford and for licensing to other self-driving cars.
For more analysis of Q1 of 2017, download our transactions report.