Robot Investments: Self-Driving Car Firms Speed Ahead with Cash Boost
May 10, 2019      

The big news for investments in recent weeks centers around autonomous vehicles, especially in the self-driving car space, and that’s not even including the $8.1 billion raised by Uber in its IPO.

This week we’re highlighting 15 recent transactions covering the robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence space. If you’ve missed some transactions over the past few months, you can track them through the RBR Transactions Database. This regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type.

Cruise earns more cash for self-driving

Cruise, the self-driving car division of GM, announced this week that fund manager T. Rowe Price and other investors added $1.15 billion in new equity, giving the division a $19 billion value. Existing investors GM, SoftBank Vision Fund, and Honda also invested in the funding, which gives Cruise additional money as it aims to launch vehicles by the end of this year. With consumer anticipation and interest in self-driving cars increasing, I would expect additional investments from other automakers and their partners in the future.

Jim Adler Toyota AI Ventures

Jim Adler, Toyota AI Ventures

Toyota, meanwhile, through its Toyota AI Ventures arm, created a new $100 million fund aimed at helping startups in the autonomous mobility and robotics space. As detailed here, the group will look for early-stage startups “across a range of industries that are applying AI, data, and cloud technologies to tackle important problems and create new market opportunities.”

“Auto manufacturers must participate in the startup ecosystem to stay ahead of the rapid shift in the auto industry,” said Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures, in the announcement. “Investing in startups creates long-term relationships that help Toyota explore the latest innovations in mobility.”

The company has already invested in several companies, including Elementary Robotics, Intuition Robotics, Joby Aviation, May Mobility, and Sea Machines. With the Fund II, the company said it will expand its search for entrepreneurs to invest in “as part of its mission to help discover what’s next for Toyota.”

BYTON Weld Shop KUKA robots cash boost article

BYTON’s welding shop incorporates 335 welding robots supplied by leading manufacturing equipment provider KUKA. Source: KUKA

Chinese automaker BYTON, which is developing a premium intelligent electric vehicle that includes autonomous features and other advanced digital technologies, said this week it will complete its Round C fundraising in mid-2019, with support from multiple investors. The company also gave an update on construction of its Nanjing plant, which is nearing completion. BYTON said the plant is built “to industry 4.0 standards using global leading manufacturing equipment and technology,” which includes:

  • A welding shop that incorporates 335 welding robots, supplied by KUKA, with an automation rate of 99%;
  • A stamping shop that completes one panel every three seconds on average.
  • A paint shop that uses “cutting-edge painting technologies, such as the transverse Eco-Incure oven technology – a first in China.”
  • A battery shop that will produce and assemble battery packs designed independently by BYTON. Battery maker CATL will provide the cells and modules, and Constellium provides the aluminum battery tray, the company said.

Robotics for industrial inspection earn investments

At the recent Xponential event covering the unmanned aerial drone market, there were many companies using drones for industrial inspection purposes, but companies can also utilized ground-based and mobile robots for these purposes.

Pittsburgh-based Gecko Robotics, for example, raised $9.1 million in an equity sale, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In New Zealand, Invert Robotics announced raising $8.8 million for its own wall-crawling inspection robots. Whether these inspections are handled by a ground robot or a flying robot, it’s clear that these systems are helping companies with tasks that are in that “dirty, dull, or dangerous” category, or they are looking for more accurate data for their inspections.

Robots in healthcare, food prep and agriculture raise money

Lucid Robotic System Neural Analytics

Source: Neural Analytics

Neural Analytics, a medical robotics company developing and commercializing technologies to track and measure brain health, announced raising $22 million from the sale of Series C shares. The company said its total funding has now reached $66 million. The company’s Lucid Robotic System combines the Lucid M1 Transcranial Doppler System with the NeuralBot System, creating an autonomous, all-in-one robotic neurovascular ultrasound device designed “to non-invasively search, measure and display objective brain blood flow information in real time.” The company said the system is currently active at select centers around the U.S., with commercialization expansion expected to continue.

In the food robotics arena, Karakuri announced raising $9.1 million in seed funding for its systems – the DK-One industrial robot that can assemble 48 ingredients (but not cook) into ready-to-go meals for commercial kitchens, and its Marley robot, a smaller robotic system for distributing smaller ingredients such as candy or frozen yogurt. The new funding was led by U.K. online grocer Ocado, which gives it the opportunity to expand its value proposition in grocery, through Ocado Zoom.

Marley food preparation robot Karakuri

Karakuri’s Marley food preparation robot. Source: Karakuri

“At Karakuri, we are dedicated to providing smart new ways to create and prepare fresh personalized meals,” said CEO and co-founder Barney Wagg. “Consumer eating habits in and out of the home are changing rapidly as demand increases for healthier options that match specific dietary requirements. This growth in menu personalization is putting huge pressure on restaurants, cafes and other food retailers. By using robotics and machine learning, Karakuri’s systems provide localized micro-manufacturing within an existing restaurant, retail, or commercial kitchen.”

Agriculture technology firm TerraClear has raised an additional $6.1 million in funding for its rock-picking robot that helps farmers clear their land in preparation for planting. The company has now raised more than $13 million since launching in December 2017.

Wrapping up the rest

OK, let’s wrap up the week with the following bullet list. Click on the link to get more details on these transactions in the AI, military, industrial and analytics space:

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmothers, and other special women in our lives! See you next week!