Robot Investments Weekly: May the Mergers Be With You

Credit: Aitoff via Pixabay

May 04, 2018      

The first week of May saw a slew of robotics mergers and acquisitions across several markets. In addition, Chinese funding of robotics and artificial intelligence companies continued to astound in terms of money spent for these companies.

We’re highlighting more than 25 transactions from the past week, but you can always track more investments in the RBR Transactions Database.  The 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 investments in this space. Go check it out!

Automation acquisitions go global

Automation companies around the world are buying other companies or are being acquired by others. Patricia Industries announced plans to buy industrial automation company Piab, which was owned by EQT, for about $788 million (6.95 billion SEK). Piab is a Swedish supplier of industrial vacuum technologies, which includes vacuum ejectors, suction cups, and vacuum conveyors.

Schneider Electric this week entered into an agreement with Indian conglomerate Larsen & Toubro to buy its electrical and automation business for an all-cash transaction of $2.1 billion (Rs 14,000 crore).

Japanese company Nidec Corp. announced that a subsidiary, Nidec Sankyo, completed the acquisition of Genmark Automation, a U.S. company that makes integrated systems and precision tool automation products for the global semiconductor markets. Details of the deal were not disclosed.

Back in the U.S., Cisco Systems announced its intention to acquire Accompany for $270 million in cash and assumed equity. The privately held Accompany, based in Los Altos, Calif., makes AI-enabled software to help sales staffers navigate the selling process and strengthen relationships with clients.

Private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. announced an agreement to acquire Cadence, which provides plastics manufacturing services for the medical field. Financial details of the deal were not announced.

Other recent mergers and acquisitions include:

Consumer, soft, and microbe detection robots score funding

Humanoid robots aimed at consumers are still finding interest from investors. This week, Shenzhen-based Ubtech received $820 million in Series C funding, led by Tencent, with participation from Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Haier, Telstra, and others. Founded in 2012, the company makes the STEM learning robot Jimu for students, as well as other models, including a Star Wars-branded stormtrooper robot (appropriate since today is Star Wars Day).

Other robots scored some funding over the past few weeks. Soft Robotics announced $20 million in new funding in an oversubscribed round. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company creates end effectors for robots that can handle a variety of objects, including produce and items that require a softer grip than ridged grippers. The company said it would use the new funding to accelerate commercial penetration of existing products and to create a new product roadmap.

Trying to find microbes at drug production plants is a pretty daunting task, so one company wants to let robots find them. Rapid Micro Biosystems in Lowell, Mass., announced this week it raised $60 million to help grow its microbial detection system. The company said its Growth Direct platform detects contamination more quickly than manual processes, allowing manufacturers to “reduce inventory carrying costs, shorten manufacturing cycles,” and reduce product losses.

Continued money in the AI space

We could rename this weekly column the “AI investments report” for the amount of transactions occurring with companies that have an AI, machine learning, or deep learning component. This shows just how much this technology is being used to create new products and services, and investors are noticing.

For example, this week Baidu launched a $500 million growth-stage fund to support AI startups and Internet companies. The Changcheng Investment Partners fund will be “an independent and market-oriented fund,” with average investments ranging between $20 million to $30 million per investment.

Startup studio and venture investment company The Hive announced a $26.5 million fund (The Hive III), which will focus on the development of AI-enhanced tools and companies. The firm said that at least seven startups will be formed under the new fund – two companies, Decision Engines and Live Objects, have already been launched.

Individual AI companies are also finding money from investors. Suki (formerly Robin AI) announced it raised $20 million ($15 million funding round, plus $5 million in seed funding) to develop an AI-based voice recognition system for doctors that lets them talk aloud for note-taking and documentation purposes.

Canadian financial technology firm MindBridge closed an $8.4 million Series A funding round to expand its AI Auditor platform. The system “automates the ingestion and analysis of data and learns from user interaction, incorporating a hybrid of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms.”

MindBridge’s system can then detect anomalous patterns of activities, unintentional errors, and intentional misstatements, helping auditors at accounting firms, enterprises, governments, and regulators.

Another Canadian company, Raven Telemetry, announced it raised $6.1 million in equity financing. The company “uses mobile hardware, software, and cloud-based analytics driven by artificial intelligence” to get real-time recommendations and productivity insights for plant managers, supervisors and machine operators at manufacturers.

Here’s a quick look at some other recent AI-based investments:

Funding for self-driving car and self-flying drone suppliers 

Companies that aim to support autonomous vehicles, whether on the road or in the air, saw a bunch of investments this week. Montreal-based Algolux, which creates machine-learning stacks for autonomous vision and imaging, closed $10 million in Series A funding. The funding round was led by General Motors Ventures, with participation from Drive Capital, Intact Ventures, and Real Ventures. The company’s technology aims to “address the difficulties posed by everyday scenarios like extreme lighting and adverse weather conditions” for self-driving cars.

Israeli-based Regulus Cyber this week announced $6.3 million in seed and Series A funding to help launch its Pyramid Suite of products. The system provides cybersecurity for sensors on autonomous cars — such as GPS, lidar, radar, and cameras — that could be vulnerable to attack by hackers.

For example, the Regulus Pyramid GPS Spoofing Protection system is a stand-alone module that protects the car’s GPS from spoofing attacks, “differentiating between reliable GPS signals coming from satellites versus attack signals coming from illegitimate sources.” The company’s Pyramid Communication & Security Manager guards drones from hacking and mission interference.

Additional recent investments in the autonomous and unmanned systems space include:

Wrapping it all up

RBR Transaction Headline of the Week: It’s Raining Funds for Cloud Robotics Firm C2RO.

Other investments we couldn’t find a theme around, but still found interesting:

Sunday reading: In case you thought we were all about puppies, unicorns, and rainbows here at Robotics Business Review, we note this article, which highlights the struggles of consumer robotics maker TickTock as it attempted to create an in-home robot but couldn’t find traction.

That’s all for this week — go hug a Jedi or Wookiee in honor of Star Wars Day.