The month of March may typically “roar in like a lion” in the Northern Hemisphere, but in the robotics and artificial intelligence investment space, the end of February has been relatively quiet in recent weeks. At least compared to the flurry of investments we saw in 2018. But we saw enough transactions over the end of the month to track within this space.
Today, we’re highlighting 15 recent robotics and AI transactions, as well as some news items. 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.
AI chipmakers grab the investment spotlight
Companies working on artificial intelligent chips that allow for processing at the edge received some investor love recently.
China’s Horizon Robotics was the big winner recently, earning $600 million in new investment and achieving a $3 billion valuation. The company’s AI edge computing platform is aimed at automotive companies, but it has also spurned interest from semiconductor companies. In late 2017, the company received more than $100 million from Intel Capital.
“Since its establishment more than three years ago, Horizon Robotics has devoted itself to becoming the leader in edge AI processors and computing platforms – enabling autonomous driving, smart cities, smart robotics and other AIoT devices,” said Dr. Yu Kai, founder of Horizon Robotics.
The company commercialized its edge AI processors on a mass production level – the “Journey” platform focuses on autonomous driving, and “Sunrise” focuses on AIoT. In 2018, it released the “Matrix” platform for autonomous driving, and “XForce” platform for edge AI computing. The company said its Matrix system has been supplied to international automotive companies. It also deployed its Navnet, a crowd-sourced precision and high-definition mapping and positioning solution based on the Matrix platform. Partners include Audi, Bosch, Chang’an, BYD, SAIC Motor, and Guangzhou Automobile Group.
The company said the new financing “has brought important strategic resources and new commercialization opportunities for Horizon, fueling a growing momentum in the expansion of the ecosystem around its core businesses.” The company plans to create new application scenarios and grow the ecosystem with its partners, it added.
Another company in the AI chip space is Lightmatter, which this week closed a $22 million Series A-1 funding round, led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), with participation from Spark Capital and Matrix Partners. The company has now raised more than $33 million. The company combines electronics, photonics, and new algorithms to create a next-generation platform for AI. The optical computer chips “leverage the unique properties of light to enable fast and efficient inference and training engines,” the company said in a statement.
AI models behind products such as automotive, robotics, and even online advertising are trained using large datasets, which requires a lot of time and energy with existing computer processors, Lightmatter said. “Current transistor-based technologies are approaching the limits of their fundamental capabilities, and faster and more energy-efficient computers will be essential to the continued progress of AI,” it said. “The alternative computing platform being developed by Lightmatter will be critical to powering the next generation of AI algorithms.
Robotics kit developer scores funding
Getting more people interested in developing robots is one of the goals for Vincross, which announced raising $10 million in new funding, led by Lenovo, with participation from GGV Capital and Seek Dource. The company also recently launched its MIND Kit system on Kickstarter, aimed at giving users a robotics kit that isn’t part of a laboratory or children’s STEM-based kit.
Early applications of the kit have included a voice-controlled IoT device that has motorized arms that can pass the salt or pepper on a dinner table, or to assist with an infant’s feeding; to a consumer robotics product like a vacuum cleaner that uses SLAM and computer vision to navigate around a floor to brush up dust. The company has also previously developed an eight-legged, all-terrain robot called HEXA. You can read more about the new kit and funding here.
Military investments in unmanned systems
The U.S. military continues its investments in unmanned aerial systems across its branches.
The U.S. Navy recently funded two universities for continued work in this space. It awarded Georgia Tech Applied Research Group $9.78 million in funding for its work as part of the Low Cost UAS Swarm Technology (LOCUST) Distributed Autonomy prototyping, analysis, and support.
The Navy also awarded $7.2 million to Mississippi State University for test and validation of emerging propulsion technologies for unmanned aircraft systems. Work was expected to be completed by Feb. 20, 2021.
The U.S. Air Force also recently provided some contract modifications to existing work it is doing in the unmanned aerial system space. It awarded $15.2 million to AAI Corp. for continued UAS work being done in Afghanistan, and another $15.2 million to AECOM Management Services to exercise the third year option for program support for Air Combat Command’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operation Center.
Large drones for delivery
In non-military drone investments, Sabrewing Aircraft announced raising more than $2 million in funding for its cargo carrier drone system. The company is creating an unmanned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) cargo carrier drone that could deliver payloads up to 800 pounds at altitudes up to 22,000 feet. With investment from the Drone Fund, the company said it is working to address a shortage of truck drivers in Japan with the cargo delivery drone.
“The shortage of pilots is a serious problem globally,” said Kotaro Chiba, co-founder of the Drone Fund. “Japan has a shortage of truck drivers for delivering as well. Sabrewing’s product as such is a semi-autonomous, remotely-piloted large cargo drone that will solve these critical issues, and the company has the potential to form a new transportation network using large drones.”
AI Corner: Image recognition, analytics, security
As per usual, we’ve seen several AI-based companies receiving investments for their AI-based or machine-learning-driven systems applied to several vertical markets or applications. Here’s a quick roundup of the news:
- ViSenze raised $20 million for its AI image recognition system aimed at retailers.
- Pointivo landed $7 million in funding for its 3D analytics and visualization platform, which uses artificial intelligence.
- SpliceMachine scored $16 million to advance its operational AI data platform for enterprises.
- China’s JIMU Intelligent raised $15 million for its AI-based driving assistance systems.
- Boston’s DataRobot announced acquiring Cursor for its data collaboration system for an undisclosed amount.
- Socure landed $30 million in funding for its AI-based identity verification platform.
- Israel’s Kryon scored $40 million to continue development of its RPA and process discovery platform.
Like I said earlier, the last few weeks have been relatively quiet in the pure robotics space, so we can hope that March will roar in like a lion with additional funding for robot companies.
See you next week!