Lots of startups claim they can see what’s going to happen in the future, but this week, we saw several companies receive funding for actually creating vision-related products — machine vision firms and computer vision companies that help robots, devices, and vehicles “see” things better.
Today, we’re highlighting 20 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.
Funding ramps up for machine vision firms
A variety of computer vision firms working on different ways to enable machines to “see” objects in the same manner as humans received funding this week.
For example, computational imaging company Light announced it raised $121 million in Series D funding, led by the SoftBank Vision Fund, as well as participation from Leica Camera AG.
The company’s technology includes its Lux Capacitor camera control chip and Polar Fusion Engine for multi-image processing. It is licensed for applications that include automotive, robotics, drones, security cameras, and smartphones.
Light’s technology is present in its Light L16 Camera, a $1,950 compact camera that captures images at multiple focal lengths. Its algorithms then combine more than 10 images into a single, high-resolution photo.
The company said the new funding will let it expand the reach of the imaging platform beyond consumer technology, including looking at robotics, automotive, aerial, industrial imaging, and security applications. Light said the first mobile phone with its technology will be available later this year.
Montreal-based AIRY3D Inc. announced it raised $10 million in an oversubscribed Series A funding round, led by Intel Capital. The company said the funding will let it “advance its licensing roadmap for the first commercial adoptions of its DepthIQ 3D sensor platform with top-tier mobile OEMs in 2019.”
The DepthIQ platform converts any single 2D imaging sensor into one that generates a 2D image and 3D depth data, the company said. Combining optical physics with algorithms, it is able to deliver a 3D sensing solution at 2D performance, resulting in savings in hardware, size, and computational load, AIRY3D added.
The company is looking to enable this technology in markets including mobile, automotive, augmented and virtual reality, drones, robotics, and smart homes.
Object recognition were at the heart of two recent acquisitions of computer vision firms. Bossa Nova, which recently raised $29 million to help scale up its mobile inventory robots, acquired AI company HawXeye this week for an undisclosed amount.
A spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University, HawXeye develops facial and object recognition technology. Marios Savvides has joined the vision firm as its new chief AI scientist and will be responsible for using AI capabilities and object recognition to help the robots identify out-of-stock and misplaced products on retail shelves.
The company announced a partnership with the CyLab Biometrics Center, which advances research in AI, analytics, and robot perception. With the acquisition, Bossa Nova gains exclusive licenses to more than 52 core IP properties in deep learning, correlation filters, 3D modeling, and other product recognition technologies, the company said.
In Germany, Basler AG announced the acquisition of Silicon Software GmbH, a manufacturer of image acquisition cards and software for the graphical programming of vision processors. Basler said the transaction will help continue to expand its product portfolio for computer vision applications.
Basler manufactures hardware for image acquisition and processing of industrial cameras in factory automation and medical technology. Terms of the deal were not announced.
Continued investment in autonomous vehicles
A lot of machine vision firms are trying to adapt their technologies for the autonomous vehicle space, which continued to see investment this year.
A once-secret startup named Zoox made a big splash this week, with reports of a $500 million investment in its self-driving car venture. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article, the company is developing an all-electric, bidirectional, self-driving car with no steering wheel or dashboard, “just an open space with two bench seats facing each other,” instead of adding self-driving technologies to existing vehicles. The company hopes to develop a ride-hailing service with the vehicles by 2020, the article states.
Moving from cars to trucks, Embark Trucks announced securing $30 million in funding, led by Sequoia Capital. The company’s goal is to develop a commercial driverless truck that still uses human drivers for local delivery – the autonomous driving would be on interstates. Embark joins other companies looking at the long-haul autonomous trucking space, including Starsky Robotics, Kache.AI, Waymo, Uber, and Chinese firm TuSimple.
Chinese investments in robotics and AI continue
Speaking of China, we continue to witness investments in artificial intelligence and robotics companies. Two companies in the space that already received funding earlier this year got even more funding for their technology development.
Unisound, which raised $100 in funding in May, scored another $89 million in funding this week. The Beijing-based company develops voice recognition, language processing and data offerings to IoT-like devices, including appliances, automobiles, healthcare, and education products. The company will release an AI chip later this year, according to the China Money Network website.
Yitu Technology, which raised $200 million last month, scored another $100 million from China Industrial Asset Management. Yitu develops a variety of products, including the Dragonfly Eye Intelligent Security System, a machine vision firm; City Data Hub, aimed at optimizing urban transportation management; and Smart Healthcare, which assists in screening for diseases, image diagnosis, and clinical treatment.
Additional funding for Chinese companies, via the CMN website, include the following deals, with few details:
- QF Capital Leads $10M Investment in China’s YiWise
- China’s ioranges Automation Raises $14M
- Northern Light Invests in China’s Wision AI
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AI developments continue to spur investment
I was interviewing a robotics executive earlier this week and asked him to comment about AI funding in the space. He said, “If you want to get 10x valuation, just put the word ‘AI’ into your pitch deck,” and he’s not wrong. Venture funding continues to go towards software companies that include some form of AI in their description – it might not be true AI in the sense of machine learning or deep learning, but that’s what a lot of investors are looking at right now.
Even other companies are investing in companies with AI technology. Japanese robotics firm Cyberdyne this week announced a new $82 million venture fund, aimed at healthcare and AI startups. The fund specifically would look at “Cybernics” technologies, which “integrates neuroscience, robotics, systems engineering, information technology, engineering, economics, among others,” a DealStreet Asia article states. The fund is expected to fund companies in this space, as well as AI, IoT, and big data firms, within the next 10 years.
Here are some other examples of AI-related items that caught our attention recently:
- Verge Genomics, which is utilizing machine learning to develop new therapies, raised $32 million in Series A financing. The company has developed therapeutic programs for Parkinson’s disease and ALS, establishing partnerships with two pharmaceutical companies.
- Viz.ai, which develops computer-aided triage software to detect and triage urgent stroke cases, secured $21 million in Series A funding. The company’s “AI cloud-based platform analyzes brain scans for large vessel occlusions and sends the scan to a neurovascular specialist to facilitate early therapeutic intervention.”
- Swim.ai, which is developing edge intelligence solutions for processing data at the edge of the cloud instead of further in, raised $10 million in Series B funding.
Wrapping up the rest
In the retail space, Perch announced it raised more than $1.7 million in seed funding, led by The Visuality Corporation, Corigin Ventures, and other angel investors. The company recently launched its open platform, which embeds mixed reality marketing into physical retail displays. The company’s Shelf Touch technology lets in-store shoppers tap for information on a product, or swipe along a display to learn more about a group of products.
- Canada’s Maxar Technologies acquired Neptec Design Group, which helps develop lidar and other systems for the space exploration market, for almost $32 million ($42 million Canadian).
- Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Rolls-Royce a $420 million contract for maintenance and repair of engines for the MQ-4C Triton and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones. This week, Northrop Grumman Systems received a $41.2 million contract modification for work on the MQ-4C Triton. The contract covers extended logistics, training, and other support services.
- Seeq received $23 million in Series B funding to help grow its Industrial Internet of Things advanced analytics software. The company said its applications, Seeq Workbench and Seeq Organizer, let manufacturers analyze, predict, collaborate, and distribute insights to help improve production outcomes.
Finally, we don’t get to write too often about grants being awarded, so it was nice to see this happen this week. The Denso North American Foundation, the philanthropic arm of automotive components maker Denso Corp., awarded 22 grants of nearly $1 million to North American colleges and universities. The grants will be used to support STEM education programs and develop a “future manufacturing workforce.”