Robot Investments Weekly: May Ends With Billion-Dollar Automation Spending Binge

Credit: Taken via Pixabay

June 01, 2018      

The final week of May saw big investments in self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence, and even a few robotics companies. It was a slower week in terms of the volume of transactions, but companies made up for this with the value of automation spending, which reached billions of dollars in a few cases.

We’re highlighting 10 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. RBR Insiders can also download the Q1 2018 Transactions Report. Our quarterly reports give further analysis on automation spending, so be on the lookout for our next one soon.

Self-driving car investments come roaring back

The past few months have seen fewer investments within the self-driving vehicle space, possibly in response to accidents such as the Uber fatality involving a pedestrian and self-driving car in Arizona.

GM Cruise self-driving car second quarter report

Cruise self-driving car in San Francisco Credit: Dllu via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

That changed this week when General Motors announced a giant investment into its self-driving unit. Along with a $2.25 billion investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, GM itself invested an additional $1.1 billion into Cruise, GM’s self-driving vehicle division.

This week also saw Waymo (owned by Alphabet/Google) invest in some new cars. The Boston Globe reported that Waymo will purchase up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to use in a ride-hailing service set to begin later this year. The company previously announced it would buy up to 20,000 compact cars from Jaguar Land Rover, the report noted.

Automakers are investing heavily in the self-driving and AI space. Alliance Ventures, an alliance between Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi, recently announced investments of $50 million, with another announcement expected soon.

With all of these autonomous vehicles on the road, companies are going to need some software to manage the fleet. One such company, Ridecell, announced it closed a Series B funding round of $28.61 million. Ridecell makes software that runs mobility services such as car sharing, ride sharing, and autonomous fleet management.

In addition, the company announced a developer kit of application programming interfaces to let developers create their own app or web interface based on the Ridecell platform.

Chinese automation spending goes big on logistics, luggage

The other billion-dollar deal this week came from China, unsurprisingly. Alibaba and its logistics division Caniao Network announced a $1.38 billion investment in Chinese logistics firm ZTO Express – the companies now have a 10% investment in the company. The automation spending will help build up “pickup and delivery capabilities, warehouse management, and cross-border logistics” for both logistics companies, reported the China Money Network.

Meanwhile, Chinese firm SenseTime, which develops facial recognition and other AI-based technologies, announced $620 million in new funding. The new investment brings its total financing up to $1.6 billion, with a $4.5 billion company value, according to the China Money Network.

SenseTime’s computer vision and deep learning technologies can be deployed in applications such as smartphones, Internet entertainment, vehicles, finance, retail, and smart city applications. The company also recently used some of its money to launch the HKAI Lab, an initiative that aims to develop AI in Hong Kong.

A third Chinese company, INTAMSYS, announced this week it had raised an undisclosed amount of Series A funding to further develop its 3D printing technology. The company produces several 3D printers that can handle more than 20 different functional materials, including carbon fiber and nylon.

ForwardX self-driving luggage second quarter report

Credit: ForwardX Robotics

Companies that are receiving lots of automation spending will need a giant suitcase to carry around all that money. Luckily, there’s a Chinese company that provides a smart, self-driving suitcase. ForwardX Robotics announced this week a $10 million funding round for its autonomous luggage, named Ovis. The $399 suitcase uses AI to follow its owner around, with a maximum speed of 6.2 mph (in case you need to run to catch your flight).

The company said it will ship to its first customers later this year. In a Venture Beat report, ForwardX Robotics said it is also looking into developing autonomous mobile robots for the supply chain space in warehousing and last-mile deliveries.

If you think China is making a lot of VC investments recently, you’d be right. According to China Money Network, Chinese venture capital firms made 284 deals worth $6.38 billion in May 2018. That number is impressive, but then consider that $15.59 billion in investments were made in April. While the AI and robotics space was fourth in terms of deal volume, it took the top spot in terms of deal value, the site reported.

AI Corner: Tools for machine learning, raising money, and living on the edge

It wouldn’t be a Robot Investments Weekly roundup without discussing artificial intelligence companies. The week saw a few new AI company investments, mainly on the development side.

  • Weights & Biases launched its company this week, announcing a $5 million Series A funding round for its platform of enterprise AI tools for machine learning developers.
  • AI firm Gravyty announced it had raised $2 million in its second round of funding. The Boston-based company makes AI-enabled tools to help companies with fundraising efforts.
  • Moving more AI computing power to edge devices is a goal of Kneron. The San Diego-based company announced $18 million in Series A1 funding this week. The company said it would use the money to accelerate product development in three areas – smart home, smart surveillance, and smartphones.

RBR Transactions Headline of the Week: Drone Insurer Flock Feathers Nest With Seed Funding. The London-based company provides a data-driven insurance product for drones.

That’s it for this week, kids! See you next week!