Robot Investments Weekly: Cars, Boats, and ‘Bot-Built Bike Score Bucks

Saildrone Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) collecting ocean data in the Pacific (PRNewsfoto/Saildrone Inc.)

May 18, 2018      

As May continues its push into summer, things remain hot in the investment space for many robotics and artificial intelligence-related companies. Over the past few weeks, we saw continued investment in automation across applications, with a particular focus on transportation. From self-driving cars and sailboats to a 3D-printed bike, companies making robots that move received funding.

We’re highlighting 26 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 investments in this space, which is growing every week!

Come sail away with these vehicle investments

Robotic autonomy isn’t just limited to cars and trucks. Other vehicles are applying self-driving — self-sailing, perhaps? — skills. For instance, Saildrone, which creates a fleet of autonomous sailboats for marine research, announced that it had raised $60 million this week in Series B funding.

Saildrone will use the money to expand its global fleet of wind-powered ocean drones. The funding was led by Horizons Ventures, and the total amount raised by the company since its 2016 founding is now $90 million.

From above the water to below, there were some recent investments in the underwater robotic space. Thalassa Holdings is exploring options to raise money for its subsidiary Autonomous Robotics Ltd., which is developing an autonomous underwater vehicle. The company also launched a 1 million share repurchase program.

Second, the U.S. Navy said last month that Raytheon was awarded an $83 million contract for the design, testing, and deployment of its Barracuda mine-neutralization system. The Barracuda is an “expendable, autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle intended to identify and neutralize bottom, near surface and drifting sea mines,” according to Raytheon.

Roadstar.AI self-driving car bikes article Investments weekly

Silicon Valley and Shenzhen Based Autonomous Driving Start-up raises $128M in Round-A investment (PRNewsfoto/

Chinese autonomous vehicle maker Roadstar.AI hit the road with some new funding this week. The company raised $128 million in Series A funding, led by Wu Capital and Shenzhen Capital Group.

Roadstar.AI, which specializes in Level 4 autonomous vehicles, said it will deploy 50 new self-driving vehicles in China this year, 200 vehicles next year, and 1,500 by 2020.

Arevo bike the result of 3D printing plus a robot arm

While the bike that Arevo created isn’t self-driving, it was produced with the help of robotics. The company this week had three big announcements: $12.5 million in Series B funding, a new CEO, and the launch of its 3D printed bicycle. Its bike was made with its composite materials additive manufacturing process, which uses a robot arm and a turntable to help create stronger materials.

You can’t ride the robots from Bossa Nova Robotics, but since they have wheels, they technically count as a vehicle for the purposes of this roundup. South Korea’s LG Electronics said it will invest $3 million to acquire about a 5% share in Bossa Nova

The company creates robots that help employees scan the shelves for inventory purposes. Bossa Nova Robotics made a splash earlier this year with news that select Walmart stores would be using the robots in trials.

If you can’t ride, then you can walk. For people who can’t walk due to spinal injuries, there’s ReWalk Robotics and its robotic exoskeletons. The company this week announced it received the first portion of $5 million in funding as part of a $20 million strategic investment by Hong Kong-based Timwell Corp. ReWalk will use the funding to help commercialize its products through Timwell in China.

Sensors, radars, and augmented displays, oh my!

Moving from robots to parts that could be used in robots or vehicles someday, there were several funding transactions in the sensor space in recent weeks.

Metawave radar car systems bikes article

Metawave develops advanced automotive radar systems for autonomous cars. (Credit: Metawave)

Metawave, which makes a smart automotive radar system, announced $10 million in new funding. The funding was led by global automotive supplier Denso, with participation from Toyota AI Ventures, Hyundai Motor Company, Asahi Glass, and other investors. Global Market Insights has predicted that the automotive radar market will exceed $8.9 billion by 2024.

Boston-based Vesper closed $23 million in Series B funding to help expand development of its low-powered piezoelectric sensors, used in the creation of MEMS microphones designed for smart devices such as speakers and wearables.

The funding round, led by American Family Ventures, also featured investments from Amazon Alexa Fund, Baidu, Bose Ventures, and Shure, leaders in consumer devices and speakers.

Looking to speed up production of heads-up displays, automotive supplier Continental this week increased its investment in DigiLens. The company develops holographic waveguide projection technology to enable heads-up displays for applications that include automotive, aviation, and motorcycle helmets.

DigiLens’ AutoHUD technology doubles the field of view, making for a much larger display that is required for augmented reality applications, “while reducing the component volume to one-sixth of the traditional size.” The company said its technology diffracts light instead of using mirrors, which requires lots of space on an automotive dashboard.

We also saw an acquisition in this space: ON Semiconductor plans to acquire SensL Technologies, an Ireland-based provider of silicon photomultipliers, single photon avalanche diodes, and lidar sensing products. The company said it will extend its presence in the market of automotive sensing applications for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomus driving.

MassRobotics renews partnerships, looks to expand facility

MassRobotics, an independent, non-profit organization with a mission to “create and grow the next generation of robotics and smart connected device companies in Massachusetts,” said this week it renewed partnerships and added some new annual partners. The group said total funding from corporate partners is close to $1.8 million.

Partner developments from MassRobotics included the following:

  • iRobot signed an exclusive five-year partnership in the consumer home robot cleaning segment.
  • Panasonic renewed its annual partnership.
  • Amazon Robotics became an annual partner.
  • Harmonic Drive renewed its annual partnership. Itwill also take a seat on the group’s upcoming advisory board, as well as earning naming rights for the new MassRobotics facility.
  • Faureci, which designs and manufactures automobile seats, interior systems and exhaust systems, is a new annual partner.
  • SMC, which makes pneumatic systems, is a new annual partner.

The organization also announced an expansion of its facilities to support almost 70 robotics startups.

AI investments run the gamut of applications

We’re wrapping up this week’s investment highlights to talk about artificial intelligence companies, which continue to draw interest from investors.

After last week’s controversy over the Google AI assistant that sounds like a human, it’s interesting to see investment in conversational AI. OJO Labs announced today it raised $20.5 million in Series B funding to further develop “intelligent, conversational systems.”

The company said it combines natural language understanding with visual experiences and personalization, letting customers to engage in a purchase process prior to interacting with a salesperson.

OJO Labs said its technology is “the only AI-based assistant that can understand a user’s intent and preferences to answer almost any real estate-related question.” In theory, this technology could be deployed into robots that could also assist real estate agents.

In the supply chain space, we’re seeing lots of interest for robotics, but there’s equal interest for AI software improvements. Alloy.AI this week announced $12 million in Series A funding for its AI-based supply chain platform that connects consumer goods companies directly to consumer demand.

Alloy.AI said its technology “aggregates and analyzes information from all sources in the supply chain, providing actionable insight and visibility into consumer demand.” The goal is to provide smarter decisions and create additional revenue opportunities, as well as prevent losses for companies “that make, move or sell products.”

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Other AI-related transactions this week included the following, which you can follow in the RBR Transactions Database:

Additional automation investments

Sometimes, you just can’t figure out a theme to categorize some of the transactions, so we have to use the “miscellaneous” bucket for that news:

RBR Transaction Headline of the Week: Restoration Robotics Gets Loan Injection for Robotic Hair Transplantation

That’s it for this week — see you next week with more transaction updates!