The commercial drone industry continues to evolve with new applications and markets – it’s no longer just drones flying up and grabbing photos and video. Advances in machine learning and drone analytics software now allow companies across several markets – construction, agriculture, energy, and mining, to name a few – to capture more data to improve efficiencies in their operations. This was evident across several transactions in the robotics and AI space this week.
Today, we’re highlighting 24 recent robotics and AI transactions. If you’ve missed some other transactions from the past months, you can track them 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 Q3 Transactions Report, which showcases and analyzes major investments from July through September 2018. It’s free for Insider subscribers to Robotics Business Review.
Big investments in construction, mining, agriculture
In looking at a bunch of the investments this week, a common theme emerged around companies utilizing commercial drones to capture data in new ways across multiple vertical industries.
For example, PrecisionHawk this week announced acquiring Uplift Data Partners in order to expand its drone technology platform for the construction industry. An interesting part of the interview I had with PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen was when he talked about how machine learning and analytics are being expanded with drones.
“For example, in the energy space, a lot of times, we just started off flying drones and getting aerial imagery of transmission lines or distribution lines,” Chasen said. “Now we’ve started taking that and we can do different analytics, measurements, and even machine learning to identify problems over time.”
In the construction space, Imerso raised $2.05 million for its construction error detection platform. The Oslo, Norway-based company uses laser scanners, drones, and a mobile scanning app to create 3D imaging models and digital twins for construction sites, and then analyzes these models with software to catch delays and mistakes in the projects.
Another company utilizing drones for better analytics is Taranis, which announced a $20 million investment this week. The company’s system uses aerial drones in the agriculture space to help farmers detect crop disease, weeds, soil nutrition levels, and insects that could harm crops.
Moving over to the mining industry, Emesent raised $2.5 million to expand its underground drone mapping system. Getting drones to fly in tight underground spaces to map a cave or mine is complicated, especially without the benefit of GPS and other navigation techniques. It’s one of the reasons that DARPA is exploring the topic in its Subterranean Challenge, looking for innovative technologies that “will explore new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, search, and exploit complex underground environments, including human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks.”
Emesent, through its association with Austrialia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO, which provided the funding), was one of the groups chosen to participate in the challenge, with events scheduled now through the fall of 2021.
Other groups in the challenge include Carnegie Mellon University; Endeavor Robotics (iRobot Defense Holdings, Inc.); the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Nevada, Reno; University of Pennsylvania; Michigan Technological University (virtual challenge); and Scientific Systems Company, Inc. (virtual challenge).
Sticking with the mining theme, last week Epiroc Drilling Solutions announced it would acquire part of Mendon, Utah-based ASI Mining LLC, which develops autonomous operation of mining vehicles. The company acquired 34% of ASI Mining, the companies said in a statement.
Energy space earns funding for AI systems
There were some interesting investments in the energy space in recent weeks. Grid4C raised $5 million to help scale up its AI-based energy analytics platform. Using advanced machine learning, smart meters and IoT data, the company helps energy providers and consumers with predictive analytics offerings to help improve the efficiency of energy operations.
Similarly, an Israeli startup called Raycatch secured an undisclosed funding round this week. The company provides AI technology that automates decision-making processes for photovoltaic PV solar asset management.
The platform “provides solar plant owners with precise actionable insights to increase energy yield, reduce capital expenditures, and maximize asset’s profitability.”
Automotive autonomy investments continue
The automotive industry continues its support of autonomous technologies, and this week was no exception. Hyundai announced a strategic investment in Allegro.AI, which develops computer vision technologies aimed at autonomous vehicles. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.
In its statement, Hyundai said it “expects to provide safer driving experiences for its customers by adopting DL computer vision technologies from prominent firms such as Allegro.AI in its vehicles. These technologies can be applied to autonomous driving systems to enhance road navigation and real-time decision making.”
Hod Hasharon, Israel-based Valens announced a $63 million investment this week. While the company produces HDBaseT technology for the audio-visual and automotive markets, it said it “is looking to accelerate the development of its portfolio for the autonomous vehicle sector and address the ongoing requirements of its automotive partners.”
The company’s chip technology provides in-vehicle connectivity, converging audio and video, Ethernet, USB, controls, PCIe, and power over a single cable. Getting fast connections will be crucial for autonomous vehicles, which will need to make split-second decisions in many cases.
In Germany, ZF Friderichshafen AG announced a 35% stake in engineering service provider ASAP Holding GmbH, to provide additional resources for autonomous driving and e-mobility systems.
AI Corner: Tracking the week’s AI investments
As I mentioned in last week’s column, investments continue to flow towards companies that include AI within their product descriptions, showing how the technology is reaching across several industries, not just robotics and automation. Here, then, are a bunch of this week’s transactions that included AI components:
- Esperanto Technologies raised $58 million for further development of its AI semiconductors.
- China’s Phoebus Medical Technology earned funding for its AI-based disease management platform.
- South Korea’s Skelter Labs announced plans to expand in Southeast Asia, as well as new funding, for its AI-based speech and voice recognition system.
- London-based AI raised $1.6 million in seed funding to develop its AI-based marketing analytics software.
- Chinese firm HuiyiHuiying (love the name!) closed a strategic investment, led by Intel Capital, for its AI-based medical imaging system.
- Bonobo AI raised $4.5 million in seed funding for its conversational AI system aimed at providing better customer service for companies.
Consumer tech: VR and home robots
There were two interesting developments in the home robotics and VR space that should cause some excitement.
1) For anyone who has experienced (or watched their kids play) Fortnite, the battle royale genre has exploded in the past few years. A company aiming to bring this concept to the VR space is BigBoxVR, which this week announced a $5 million investment to help bring its battle royale game, “Population: ONE” to market.
2) Trifo announced $11 million in funding to expand its home robotics platform to provide more services than just vacuuming. The company plans to address “the lack of fully integrated robotic systems by building a smart consumer robot vacuum with increased functionality at a far lower cost than other well-known home vacuum products.” In addition to the funding, the company announced a new chief operating officer: Xiangsheng Ge, the former COO of UBTECH Robotics.
Best of the rest
With investments in military, manufacturing, engineering, and materials discovery, here are the rest of this week’s transactions:
- The U.S. Army awarded Raytheon a $191 million contract for anti-drone radar development.
- General Atomics was awarded $263 million by the U.S. Air Force to produce additional MQ-9 unmanned aircraft systems.
- Inovo Robotics raised $1.96 million for further development of its low-cost cobot platform.
- IDG Capital led a $47 million funding round for Chinese 3D printer maker Heygears Intelligent.
- Frontenac acquired Motion Solutions in the engineering services and motion control
- Boston-based Kebotix earned seed funding to advance its materials discovery system, which uses AI and robotics.
See you next week!