Robot Investments Weekly: Billions of Bucks Boost Autonomous Systems

Credit: Deposit Photos

June 15, 2018      

Companies in the automotive industry threw around a lot of money this week as they look to a future of self-driving cars, electric cars, and ride-hailing services. We also saw a billion-dollar deal in the factory automation space, and the U.S. military is investing heavily in autonomous systems for land, sea, and air.

We highlight here 28 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, which gives further analysis on automation spending. Let’s get to this week’s transactions!

Spending spree in automotive industry

Toyota this week announced a $1 billion investment in Southeast Asia’s leading ride-hailing service, Grab. Toyota is also an investor in Uber, which sold its share of its Southeast Asia operations to Grab earlier in the year.

Recent Toyota transactions, either from the company directly or through its Research Institute or investment divisions, include investments in the Open Source Robotics Foundation, May Mobility, a new venture focusing on self-driving cars, Blackmore Sensors (lidar development), Autowave (smart radar), and Boxbot (last-mile delivery vehicles).

Deposit Photos Toyota logo autonomous systems

Credit: Deposit Photos

While the Grab investment isn’t directly related to self-driving cars, it’s generally understood that autonomous systems will initially appear as “robo-taxis” offered by services such as Grab, Uber, and Lyft.

It’s not just Toyota spending money in this space. Robotics giant SoftBank recently announced a $3.35 billion investment in GM’s Cruise unit, the automaker’s self-driving car division.

Chinese electric-vehicle maker Byton also scored some money this week, with a $500 million investment from FAW Group, Tusholdings and CATL. The company is competing with Tesla in the luxury electric car market, offering smarter connected cars. Earlier in the year, the company announced a partnership with Aurora to add self-driving technology to the vehicles.

Factory automation spends $1B on PTC share

It was a pretty good week for PTC on the eve of its Boston LiveWorx event next week (in which Robotics Business Review is producing the Robotics & AI Summit).

Factory automation equipment maker Rockwell Automation said this week it would make a $1 billion equity investment in PTC. The companies said the partnership would “accelerate growth for both companies and enable them to be the partner of choice for customers around the world who want to transform their physical operations with digital technology.”

The agreement will have PTC align its ThingWorx IoT, Kepware industrial connectivity, and Vuforia AR platforms with Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk MES, FactoryTalk Analytics, and industrial automation platforms. Stay tuned next week as we hear more about this deal during the PTC LiveWorx event.

There were some other moves in the industrial automation space, including:

Military continues investments in autonomous systems

The U.S. military has made several investments in autonomous sysetms in recent weeks. The Coast Guard awarded Insitu, a division of Boeing, a $117 million contract to procure the company’s ScanEagle vehicle to use on its National Security Cutters. ScanEagle will conduct surveillance, detection, classification, and identification operations for approximately 200 hours per 30-day operational patrol period, the company said.

The U.S. Navy made a couple of different investments. It awarded a $48.63 million contract to Six3 Advanced Systems for the deployment of a drone countermeasures system.

It also signed a deal with Aquabotix to test and demonstrate the company’s SwarmDiver underwater unmanned vehicles, which can work along dozens of other SwarmDivers to create an swarm of autonomous systems.

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The U.S. Army, meanwhile, awarded a $49.7 million contract to Robotic Research LLC to provide its Autonomy Kits for large convoy resupply vehicles as part of the army’s Expedient Leader Follower program. The Army said the goal of the program is to “enable effective autonomous resupply convoy operations,” in which vehicles will autonomously follow the path of the first manned vehicle.

In related news, it came out this week that Helen Grenier, who started CyPhy Works and then became CTO, left the company in late 2017 to work with the Army in its Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, according to Boston Innovation. CyPhy Works also recently raised $4.3 million in new funding for its tethered security drone systems.

Robot roundup: Salads, industrial robots, grocery fulfillment, and more

Sally salad robot Chowbotics salad robot

Chowbotics’ Sally system for salad preparation.

Chowbotics this week announced an $11 million investment for its Sally device, a robotic piece of equipment that can make salads in about one minute using a combination of up to 22 ingredients, providing customers with more than 10,000 different salad options.

The company said it will use the additional funding to extend the Sally platform beyond salads, for such options as grain bowls, breakfast bowls, poke bowls, acai bowls, and yogurt bowls.

Omnirobotic announced a $1 million seed round funding led by Element AI to help develop autonomous industrial automation robots that integrate artificial intelligence so robots can sense their environment, make a plan and execute tasks without needing to learn actions ahead of time.

The funding will help commercialize its first product, OmniPainter, a painting robot that can autonomously paint any product hanging on an overhead conveyor, the company said.

French robotics firm Exotec Solutions announced a €15 million ($20.06 million) Series B funding round to develop its 3D autonomous systems that can transfer goods in a warehouse to team members in traditional and e-commerce grocery operations.

Earlier in the month, Switzerland’s EcoRobotix announced a $10.6 million Series B round of funding for its autonomous mobile weeding robot, which can help reduce the amount of pesticides that farms use on its crops.

Funds, funds, and more funds

Lots of companies announced new venture funds groups, including:

  • Samsung NEXT launched the Samsung NEXT Q Fund to invest in artificial intelligence companies.
  • The Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute (ARM) announced the first four projects it was funding, awarding $2.8 million (with $4 million in cost-sharing from project members) for industrial and manufacturing robotics systems.
  • Lockheed Martin doubled the amount of venture funding it was spending on early-stage companies creating sensor, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity technologies.

Investments in medical robots and AI systems

In the healthcare arena, a few transactions worth noting included:

  • Caresyntax, which provides AI and data analytics software in the surgical data space, concluded a $31.9 million funding round. The company helps “hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers identify and manage risk, automate workflows, enhance knowledge sharing and reduce surgical variability.”
  • Andrew Alliance, which provides robotics systems in the liquid handling and laboratory pipettes space, announced a $14 million investment from several groups.
  • Intuitive Surgical, which pioneered the robotic surgery market with its da Vinci robot, invested $15 million in Broncus Medical, which develops diagnostic and therapeutic technology for lung disease. The company is currently testing its Archimedes robot platform for virtual bronchosopic navigation.
  • Israel-based XACT Robotics raised $5 million for its robotic system that can navigate medical tools within the body.

Rounding up the rest

This roundup is getting long, so let’s go to the final bullet list of transactions:

RBR Transaction Headline of the Week: It’s not a super-creative one, but we’re still going to award it — “Sphero Rolls Up More Funding.” The creator of the Sphero robot ball toy and the cool BB-8 robot toy from Star Wars), is moving into the education market.

See you next week! If you’re at the Robotics & AI Summit, come by our booth and say hello!

Main image and Toyota image courtesy of Deposit Photos.