Robot Investments Weekly: Money Flows to Mobile, Medical Robots

Credit: CMR Surgical

June 08, 2018      

After last week’s investment spotlight fell on autonomous cars and artificial intelligence systems, this week we saw a focus on healthcare and medical robots. Several surgical systems and AI-based platforms aimed at helping doctors diagnose diseases made headlines with investments from venture capital firms.

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. 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!

Medical robots and AI systems earn the spotlight

Medical robots that help surgeons improve their efficiency and accuracy, as well as AI systems that can be used to help discover new drug treatments or diagnose disease, continue to enter the marketplace. Investors took note this week of several medical robots companies this week.

U.K.-based CMR Surgical Ltd. announced it closed a Series B funding round of $100 million, led by China’s Zhejiank Silk Road Fund, along with existing investors. The company said it will use the new funding to commercialize its Versius system, a universal robotic system aimed at minimal access surgery. The medical robots’ four-axis wrist joint is inspired by the human arm and is designed to meet requirements of laparoscopic surgery, CMR said.

Quantum Surgical, a French company that develops medical robots for minimally invasive cancer therapies, announced $50 million in Series A funding. Ally Bridge Group led the funding round, with participation from China’s Lifetech Scientific through its joint venture with Ally Bridge Group.

Quantum Surgical said its medical robots are intended to “facilitate interventional oncology treatment, especially for early-stage cancer patients.”

In the AI space, Zebra Medical Vision announced it raised $30 million for its deep learning image analytics system, designed to grab data from millions of radiology scans (see video below). With the images and correlated clinical records, the system is able to “create high-performance algorithms that automatically detect medical conditions faster, for numerous findings in parallel.”

Another medical AI company, nference, raised $11 million in Series A financing for its AI-powered neural networks “for real-time automated extraction of knowledge from the scientific, regulatory, and commercial body of literature” within the life sciences realm.

A company looking to create 3D-printed organs based on a CT scan or other medical imaging this week announced new funding. BIOMODEX, a Boston-based medical device company, announced it received $15 million in Series A funding. The round was led by European investment firms, Idinvest Partners and InnovAlliance.

BIOMODEX said it has now raised more than $18.5 million for its platform that uses 3D printing technology “to develop patient-specific synthetic organs for pre-operative planning.”

The company will use the new financing to develop new products in the interventional cardiology space and to open a new manufacturing facility outside Boston. Thomas Marchand, CEO of BIOMODEX, said the “personalized, 3D-printed organs will enable surgeons to gain a better understanding of their patient’s unique anatomy – so they will be able to plan the most complex procedures in an optimal way.”

Mazor Robotics, which continues to develop and sell its hair restoration surgical system, received $1.1 million from Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, which increased its stake in the company.

Delivery robots pick up money

Starship Technologies, which has been building a fleet of mobile delivery robots to deliver goods in the “last mile”, announced a new CEO and $25 million in seed round funding this week. The company named Lex Bayer, who previously worked at Airbnb, to help expand its robots to neighborhoods, corporate and university campuses across the U.S. and Europe.

Starship also said its robots have now covered more than 100,000 miles worldwide, in 20 countries and more than 100 cities, “encountering over 15 million people along the way.”

Meanwhile, Toyota AI Ventures this week announced it was part of a $7.5 million investment in Boxbot, an Oakland, Calif.-based startup developing self-driving robots for last-mile delivery.

Last-mile delivery is the most complex and expensive part of the supply chain, said Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures. “The same autonomous technologies — i.e., sensors, perception, prediction, planning — used to pack boxes in the warehouse are now being pressed into the service of delivering those packages to that last mile to your door,” he said.

Government funding updates from China, U.S. military

There were two notable funding announcements from government-related entities this week. Guizhou Province in China announced a $470 million industrial fund to invest in big data initiatives.

According to the China Money Network report, the government will invest in projects with capital from businesses and other sub-funds. The province’s cool climate and hydroelectric power has made it attractive to data centers for Tencent and Alibaba.

Apple announced in January that it would hand over iCloud data services in mainland China to a state-owned company in Guizhou, China Money Network said.

In the U.S., FLIR Systems announced it received a $2.6 million order from the U.S. Army for its Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance Systems. The tiny unmanned, autonomous helicopters will support squad-level surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for its Soldier Borne Sensor program (see video).

The Army initially bought the Black Hornet PRS system from FLIR for evaluation in 2016 and 2017. Deliveries of the new order are expected later this year, the company said.

Drone systems receive funding boost

With developments in the unmanned aerial vehicle space moving forward, a few companies related to drones made some funding news this week. Kittyhawk.io, which develops an enterprise drone platform for professional pilots and fleet managers, announced $5 million in additional funding.

Verity Studios AG announced it raised $18 million in Series A funding to expand its live events businesses for its indoor drone technology. Founded by Kiva Syhstems co-founder Raffaello D’Andrea, Verity creates drone shows for entertainment providers, including Cirque du Soleil, Madison Square Garden, Princess Cruises, and even the rock band Metallica.

D’Andrea said in the funding announcement the new money will help accelerate growth and expand operations, in order to “deliver cutting-edge robotics and AI to live events to create new forms of expression, while pioneering new live event technology.”

Rounding up the rest

After watching that cool drone video, we’re ready to go start our own show. Before we go, here are the rest of the significant investment news in the robotics and AI space:

That’s it for this week! Have a great weekend!