Robot Investments Weekly: Road Ahead Looks Good for Robotics Market

Credit: (PRNewsfoto/Faraday Future)

June 29, 2018      

The end of June (and the end of the second quarter) saw a bunch of investments in robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicles, including several in aerial drones, agricultural devices, and industrial automation. This week also marked a report from a research firm outlining how big the robotics market was in 2017.

Today we’re highlighting 12 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. Half the year is over, let’s see how June ended!

Report: $2.7 billion in robotics VC funding in 2017

Regular readers of this column know how much money is being invested within the robotics market, but unless you track every transaction, you might not know how much is being spent in total. We do our best, of course, but even we miss some announcements on occasion.

Fortunately, analyst firms such as ABI Research make it their job to track such investments for their clients as well. ABI this week announced a report on last year’s investments in global automation. The company said 2017 “represented the largest year of investment,” with $2.7 billion invested by venture capital companies in the robotics industry.

ABI Research noted that the growth rate slowed from 2016 to 2017 compared with the rate between 2015 and 2016, but that was because they narrowed the definition of robotics, leaving out categories like autonomous cars.

Had that category been included, robotics market investment would have exceeded $5 billion, said Rian Whitton, a research analyst at ABI Research.

“Given the narrower definition, the sizeable increase in investment is a further indication of the growing confidence in the robotics industry, and the sense of urgency investors have in funding these key technologies,” Whitton said.

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Other key trends/takeaways from the research include:

  • While the U.S. remains the top country in terms of the number of robotics investments, it only accounted for 49.4% of the funding dollars ($1.4 billion), as opposed to 63% in 2016. Second-place China, despite receiving only 11% of the individual investments, took 37% of total funding. There might not be as many companies getting funding in China, but the investments that do get made are large.
  • In terms of where robotics companies are receiving funding, in the U.S. it’s mainly focused in California (San Francisco and Silicon Valley) and Massachusetts. In China, the regions of Shenzhen and Beijing receive most of that country’s robotics funding.
  • More than $500 million was invested in commercial and consumer health robotics, while almost $500 million went to autonomous mobile robots for indoor locations, such as warehouses. However, new investments in construction, agriculture, and last-mile delivery also saw significant funding.
  • Consumer robotics, such as toy robots and personal home robots received more than $800 million. However, this included large investments in Chinese robotics companies, such as UBTECH, the report noted.

Whitton said ABI’s observations of the robotics market found that funding is also moving into new areas beyond traditional industries.

“Perhaps the most exciting news from the 2017 investment monitor is what it reaffirms,” Whitton said. “Not only is interest in robotics growing, but funding is being directed to areas of nascent development, rather than comparative safe bets in process and discrete manufacturing.”

Based on robotics market transactions for the first half of 2018, it looks like the growth in investments will continue, ABI Research said. More details are available in the company’s “Robotic Investment Monitor 2017” report, available here.

Fresh funding for Lyft, Faraday Future revs up automotive tech

We like to include automotive technology investments in our roundups, as there is a big robotics element (and AI development) when discussing autonomous and self-driving vehicles. Even if those investments are tangential, they have a big impact.

For example, this week Lyft received $600 million in additional funding, bringing its market valuation to $15.1 billion. While most of Lyft’s business is around ride-hailing, they do have significant investments and partnerships with companies exploring autonomous cars, such as Magna and nuTonomy.

In addition, Los Angeles-based Faraday Future this week confirmed a $2 billion equity funding round made late last year by Season Smart Ltd., after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the deal. Yueting Jia, founder of Faraday Future, will now take the role of global CEO, the company said.

Faraday Future is developing the FFI 91, a luxury crossover electric vehicle equipped with more than 30 smart sensors and motion-enabled 3D lidar that enables “valet parking, facial recognition, and seamless entry.”

The FFI 91 embodies “three product revolutions – an ‘all-in-one’ car, a third Internet living space, and a super car-robot” by combining Internet access, autonomous driving, and artificial intelligence, said Faraday Future.

Unmanned systems earn look from military, private sector

Unmanned vehicle systems, from aerial drones to underwater vehicles, recently received financial support from the U.S. military and private equity firms.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems received a $39.57 million contract from the U.S. Marine Corps to provide unmanned air system intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance surge support for the Marine Corps Task Force Southwest operations using MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air systems. Work on the systems is expected to be completed by November 2018.

The U.S. Navy awarded an $8 million contract to Reston, Va.-based Metron Inc., to develop advanced modular payloads for unmanned undersea vehicles. The contract is part of a larger project for Navy and Marine Corps science and technology research, with options to increase the award to $21.1 million.

Drone software platform developer DroneDeploy this week announced $25 million in new funding led by the Invenergy Future Fund. The company aims to enter new industries for its commercial drone software platform, allowing companies in the agriculture, construction, insurance, energy, surveying, and mining spaces to fly more drones for inspection or other purposes.

DroneDeploy said more than 30 million acres have been mapped by its customers. It also recently launched its Live Map real-time mapping system to give companies instant insights when flying their drones at job sites.

Matternet, a developer of autonomous drone logistics software, announced $16 million in Series A funding, led by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, with participation from Swiss Post, Sony Innovation Fund, and Levitate Capital. The company has developed a platform aimed at healthcare, e-commerce, and logistics organizations for drone-based deliveries.

Matternet said it will use the funds to expand U.S. and global operations in urban environments. Matternet was also one of the companies chosen to participate in the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, which is looking to build a framework to expand commercial drone operations in the U.S.

Not all news was good for drone makers recently. Jane’s 360 reported that Swedish drone maker CybAero announced it had filed for bankruptcy, with more information expected at the company’s general meeting on June 30. The company produced the APID series of rotary-wing aerial vehicles, but it had recently experienced “significant declines in revenues and a worsening cash flow situation,” Janes said.

IoT devices, robotics market raise more money

Two Chinese companies in the robotics market received some funding this week. Dobot, which develops lightweight desktop robotic arms for education and manufacturing markets, raised $15 million in Series A+ funding, led by Green Pine Capital Partners. The company’s Dobot Magician system can perform multiple tasks, including 3D printing, laser engraving, writing, and drawing, with an open platform for users to create more functions.

CurveRobot, which develops painting robots for doors and windows in the home construction space, received angel funding from iVision Ventures and Yuanwang Capital. The company said it plans to expand its research and development team, establish new R&D centers, and accelerate hardware and software production.

WaterBit Carbon robotics market investments report

WaterBit Carbon, a solar-powered device that installs in minutes, collects data from sensors and controls irrigation valves 24/7. Carbon pairs with devices to monitor soil moisture, water pressure and flow along with weather conditions. (PRNewsfoto/WaterBit)

WaterBit, which develops autonomous irrigation devices for agriculture applications, received $11.4 million in new funding, led by New Enterprise Associates.

The company stated that it will use the funding to accelerate product development of its systems, with the goal of fully autonomous irrigation. It also plans to expand sales and marketing efforts.

WaterBit said it aims to address the problem of fresh water scarcity for farmers “by providing growers with tools to analyze granular, ground-truth data collected through its IoT sensors and to monitor and control irrigation via cloud-based software.”

One such customer, Devine Organics, was able to nearly double its vegetable field yield, reduce water usage by 6% and offer a 5% decrease in greenhouse emissions from fuel used to pump water and make trips to the field.

In AI, tools companies merge and receive funding

It was relatively quiet in the AI space this week compared with other aspects of the robotics market, but there were still some noteworthy transactions.

Noodle.AI raised $35 million in a Series B funding round, led by Dell Technologies Capital. The San Francisco-based company produces AI-based enterprise applications that “help key industries predict the future and make better business decisions.”

Noodle.AI’s applications can predict key variables in demand and supplies, letting large companies make more accurate decisions.

Steele Compliance Solutions announced that it was acquiring TransparINT, a maker of AI-based financial crime-detection tools, for an undisclosed amount. The company plans to integrate TransparINT’s tools into its offerings of compliance and risk-mitigation tools for the financial industry.

That’s it for this week — have a great weekend and a great end to the first half of 2018!