Investor interest in autonomous systems across the robotics landscape continued to grow this week. Whether it’s a new company earning money to help bring flying taxis to life, or the military investing in autonomous underwater vehicles, companies creating systems that navigate without humans are getting the green light from investors.
Today, we’re highlighting 18 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.
Investor interest high for autonomous vehicles and systems
Let’s start our autonomous journey in China, where Xpeng Motors this week announced raising $585 million for continued development of its Level 2.5 autonomous driving electric cars. The G3, an electric SUV that features a 360-degree roof camera, 20 smart sensors, and autonomous parking in addition to the Level 2.5 autonomy, is set for orders later this year, the company said. The company also said it will build 150 “supercharging stations” across China.
Back in the U.S., San Francisco-based rideOS announced a $25 million Series B round to continue development of its transportation fleet software for self-driving and human-operated companies, including ride hailing firms, logistics providers, and governments. The new funding will be used to expand the company’s offerings to the European transportation market, the company said.
Moving from cars to the skies, a new company called Xwing debuted this week, announcing a $4 million seed round to help develop its autonomous aviation system. With interest in vertical takeoff or Landing (VTOL) vehicles, “flying taxis” and other vehicles on the rise, the company said adding autonomy to aircraft will help ease traffic on the roads and increase human mobility. We may just get to that future promised in “The Jetsons” after all.
That covers the land and air, let’s now move to the sea. The U.S. Navy announced a $561 million contract spread out among multiple companies to help develop its family of Unmanned Undersea Vehicle systems. Companies awarded money include the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Draper, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and others. The Navy said the work is expected to be completed by July 2023, with the possibility of extending the total amount to $794.5 million.
The military awarded some other contracts recently, including an $8.9 million contract to Boeing division Insitu for spare parts on the RQ-21A unmanned aerial vehicle; and a $17.6 million contract to AeroVironment to allow them to sell UAVs to Norway.
All was not roses for the autonomous vehicle space this week, however. Uber announced it was halting development of its self-driving trucks, instead deciding to focus autonomous vehicle development for cars only. The company said its Uber Freight app, a smartphone app that connects truck drivers and shippers, was not affected by this decision.
The autonomous long-haul trucking space still has many startups and larger companies looking to develop further, including Waymo, Starsky Robotics, Embark, and Tesla.
Warehouse robot market continues to shine
Autonomy is also at the heart of mobile robots in the warehouse space, which continues to earn investor interest. InVia Robotics scored $20 million in a Series B round of funding for continued development of its warehouse automation systems designed for e-commerce fulfillment centers. The company said it will use the money to accelerate commercial deployment of its Picker robots and cloud-based robotics-as-a-service management system.
Earlier this year, the company announced it had partnered with Rakuten Super Logistics to automate the logistics company’s U.S. warehouses.
This investment shows continued interest in the mobile robot market for warehouses – companies such as Locus Robotics, Fetch Robotics, 6 River Systems, and Mobile Industrial Robots have either earned funding or were purchased by other companies (in the case of MIR).
Sad news for Kuri home robot
We often write about funding successes in this space, but our transactions database also notes when companies fail. Such was the case for Mayfield Robotics, which last month announced it would “pause operations” and cease manufacturing of its Kuri home robots. Even the Kuri robots that were made for customers would not ship, with deposits refunded to customers. The company made a big splash at the CES 2017 event, as well as spots at South by Southwest and the TED conference.
But since launching in 2015 as part of the Bosch Startup Platform, the company said it was looking for the best paths to achieve scale. “Typically, startups in the Bosch Startup Platform are integrated into existing Bosch business units, but after extensive review, there was not a business fit within Bosch to support and scale our business,” Mayfield said in a blog post.
Formlabs becomes latest unicorn, validating 3D printing
Formlabs announced a $15 million round, boosting its value to over $1 billion, making the 3D printing company a “unicorn” (companies with a $1 billion valuation or higher). The company has expanded from its consumer 3D printing systems into business applications, including manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, dentistry, and jewelry, among others.
VR and face-tracking vision systems impress investors
Two other quick funding notes to mention from recent weeks: Chinese VR headset maker Pico announced a $24.7 million Series A funding round, increasing its investment in 3D sensing and augmented reality technologies. In addition to making headsets for consumers, the company said it was getting involved on the B2B side, including education, real estate, insurance, automotive, and medical applications.
Second, BinaryVR raised $4.5 million for development of its face-tracking vision system, which is used primarily in goofy applications that create avatars over a human’s face and can track the human’s facial movements and translate them to a virtual application. In a VR world, for example, it’s not a stretch to imagine a training session where an instructor can tell that a student is confused based on the facial expressions of the human in the real world. While initially it looks like the company will focus on consumer and fun applications, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this work move into business or industrial applications.
Wrapping up the rest
Sadly, this column is not yet fully autonomous, which means the human writing this needs a break. So here are the rest of this week’s interesting transactions in the robotics space, in handy bullet list form:
- TerraClear Raises Money for Rock-Clearing Robots
- HMS Industrial Networks Acquires Beck IPC for Industrial IoT Systems
- Indian Startup Entropik Tech Raises Funds for Emotion AI system
- Baidu Ventures Invests in China’s In-Driving
- CrossChx Rebrands as Olive, Raises Funds for RPA Software
- Singapore’s AntWorks Earns Funding for AI Software Platform
- AI-Powered Food Recommender Disq Lands Pre-seed Funding
That’s it for this week, have a great weekend everyone!