December 22, 2017      

Although all types of automation have benefited from investor interest this past year, there has been a lot of focus on AI funding in particular as 2017 winds down.

In “Robot Investments Weekly,” Robotics Business Review recaps the past week’s transactions across the global robotics industry. For more information, Robotics Business Review subscribers can access our Transactions Database to stay up to date on the key mergers and acquisitions, investments, public offerings, and government funding developments. Search, sort, and print by transaction type, date, or industry.

At press time, we tracked deals for 20 companies that raised more than $394 million — not even including the first transaction below! By comparison, last week, 10 companies raised more than $126 million.

Didi Chuxing hails $4B in AI funding

Ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing Technology Co. has raised $4 billion in funding from sources including SoftBank Group Corp. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Chinese company will use the money to compete with Uber Technologies Inc. and invest in self-driving cars and other artificial intelligence systems.

Although this transaction may not strictly be confined to robotics, it’s an example of the ongoing rivalry between the U.S. and China for AI leadership. This week’s announcement of an AI partnership between Baidu and Huawei is another example.

AI-powered insurer Lemonade gets $120M led by SoftBank

Japan-based SoftBank has continued its pursuit of all things related to robotics and AI by leading the Series C funding round for Lemonade Insurance Agency LLC. The New York-based insurer applies machine learning to accelerate the processing of insurance claims.

Lemonade claims that Maya, its bot, can “craft the perfect insurance for you. It couldn’t be easier, or faster.” The company’s application programming interface (API) can integrate its insurance app into e-commerce, real-estate, financial services, and other sites.

Other participants in this AI funding included GV (formerly Google Ventures), Sequoia Capital, and Thrive Capital.

Fyusion raises $22M for 3D computer vision, machine learning

Fyusion has completed a $22 million Series B round of financing for its 3D computer vision and machine-learning expertise. More than 15 million users a week launch the Fyuse app to take and share 3D interactive pictures. Those pictures are training tool to help train the eyes of a new generation of devices.

Fyusion’s 3D AI technology is capable of understanding these people, objects, and scenes, live in the camera. The company is now working with partners to expand its technology to businesses.

“We would like to enable all computers, from smartphones to robots, to take advantage of fyuse and 3D Visual Understanding soon.” said Fyusion chief Radu Rusu.

DigitalGenius gets funding for call center automation

Founded in 2013, London-based DigitalGenius has announced a $14.75 million Series A funding round that will help it automate many facets of customer service.

The round was led by Global Founders Capital, with participation from Salesforce Ventures, MMC Ventures, Paua Ventures, Kairos, Runa Capital, RRE Ventures, Lumia Capital, Compound, Spider Capital, and Lerer Hippeau Ventures.

DigitalGenius connects with companies’ customer relationship management (CRM) and customer service systems to train AI assistants using transcripts from historical customer service interactions. Using this data, the AI can predict relevant metadata about a new case in real time. Customers include KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Unilever, Eurostar, and Soylent.

AI chip maker ThinkForce builds on $6.8M Series A

Shanghai Think-Force Electronic Technology Co., which produces hardware for AI and machine vision, announced Series A funding of $6.8 million from YITU Tech, Yunfeng Fund, Sequoia Capital, and Hillhouse Capital.

ThinkForce plans to use its AI funding for a chip based on its “ManyCore” architecture, which it claimed can “accelerate computation for various neural network models” and “is over five times more efficient in power consumption and cost savings” compared with an Nvidia computing card.

YITU Tech, which has joined with IDG Capital in AI funding for pharmaceutical firm AccutarBio, is working to help China be an AI leaders.

“We believe that Thinkforce’s talented team and its years of experience and reputation in this field will create multiplier effects and improve efficiency during our common exploration in AI technologies,” said Jiao Hui Ru, director of technology strategy at YITU Tech. “We are facing global competition in the making of AI chips, and we need a strategic plan domestically in China in order to stay abreast.”

ThinkForce has also partnered with IBM and Cadence.

European Commission grants AI funding to Cobiro

Today, the European Commission gave $2 million in grants to Copenhagen-based Cobiro ApS, which uses natural language processing to automatically create Google AdWords campaigns for small businesses.

“For websites that do not sell products online but offer a service — like if you are a lawyer, a carpenter, a dentist, or [something] similar, we use neural networks to figure out the area of expertise,” Cobiro CEO Bo Krogsgaard told VentureBeat. “If you are a lawyer, you might be working with [mergers and acquisitions] or a completely different area, like social housing or environmental law. Setting up relevant campaigns for these websites is obviously very different. Many humans are confused by the difference and might not tell them apart, but the neural network is very accurate and likely much more accurate than humans.”

In other European AI funding, Fly Ventures said it has closed a $41 million fund that uses machine learning to find promising startups. The Berlin-based venture capital fund’s backers include Korelya Capital, the European Investment Fund, and family offices in the U.S.

Fly Ventures said it has invested in 11 companies to date, including Finiata and Inato. The company can help “bridge a funding gap in Europe at the seed stage, where founders spend too long trying to raise early stage cash rather than building their products,” said TechEU.

Verint acquires Next IT for $30M

Mellville, N.Y.-based Verint Systems Inc. has purchased Next IT Corp. and Next Innovation Labs LLC, which develop conversational virtual assistants, for $30 million.

Verint supplies more than 10,000 organizations in more than 180 countries with systems focusing on optimizing customer engagement; analyzing security intelligence; and monitoring fraud, risk, and compliance.

“We believe that Verint’s ongoing innovation in artificial intelligence technologies — such as machine learning, robotics, and natural language processing — positions us for accelerated growth by helping organizations modernize their customer engagement operations with greater automation,” said Dan Bodner, Verint CEO.

Lenovo supports Vackbot for cybersecurity

Vackbot, a portfolio company of cloud testing company Testin, has received AI funding led by Lenovo Group Ltd. The terms were not disclosed. Vackbot tests applications, systems, and networks for cybersecurity loopholes.

China-based Vackbot said it “is developing an AI engine to simulate hacker methods and breach scenarios, like a virtual hacker robot. It can perform attack operation continuously to identify breach scenarios across applications, systems, and networking; it will eventually evolve the problem and surpass human engineers in iterative cycles.”

Digital transformation is boosted with Maana funding

Maana Inc., which provides “digital knowledge technology for the enterprise,” completed Series C funding of $28 million, led by China International Capital Corp. and Eight Square Capital.

Other investors included Accenture Ventures, Sino Capital, Intel Capital, GE Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, and Shell Technology Ventures. Maana’s AI funding reflects the interest by the oil and gas industry and others in gaining efficiencies through the use of its proprietary algorithms to extract knowledge from data silos.

The World Economic Forum this year recognized Maana as a 2017 Technology Pioneer.

The company has offices in Palo Alto, Calif.; Bellevue, Wash.; and Houston, as well as Saudi Arabia and Europe.

Pharmaceutical AI company Bigfinite raises seed round

Bigfinite has raised $8.5 million in a seed round led by Crosslink Capital, Uncork Capital (formerly SoftTech VC), and La Famiglia. Industry Ventures and Krohne also participated in the AI funding.

San Francisco-based Bigfinite noted that the pharmaceutical manufacturing process creates “massive amounts of data … from numerous sources, in a variety of formats, and is stored in disparate locations — it’s messy.” It’s Bigengine platform is offered through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

“In the U.S. alone, 70% of pharma manufacturing data is never used,” said Pep Gubau, founder and CEO of Bigfinite. “Our Bigengine platform helps pharma companies discover new ways to optimize processes, reduce manufacturing quality issues, and enhance regulatory compliance, with the potential for a six month return on investment.”

The company plans to use the AI funding to double its staff of 32 people and expand its business development and customer-support efforts.

Vayyar Imaging raises $45M for 3D sensors

Vayyar Imaging, an Israel-based maker of 3D sensors, has raised $45 million in a Series C round, bringing its total funding to $79 million. The round was led by Walden Riverwood Ventures in San Francisco and asset management company Investec Bank Ltd. in London, with the participation of additional investors including Battery Ventures LP in Boston and Bessemer Venture Partners in Menlo Park, Calif.

Vayyar develops 3D sensors that can see through walls, metal surfaces, and skin using radio frequency. Initially focusing on early-stage detection of cancer, the company has developed a multipurpose sensor that can be used in various industries, including autonomous vehicles, medical diagnosis, robotics, and more.

Vayyar intends to use the funding to hire new employees, expand its market reach, and diversify its product offering.

Ripcord expands Series B funding with $25M for office automation

Ripcord Inc., a Hayward, Calif.-based startup building robots that scan paper records and make them accessible on the cloud, announced an additional $25 million in equity funding led by GV.

The round also included participation from new investor Telstra Ventures and previous investors Icon Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank. This increases the total Series B funding round to $65 million.

Co-founded by former Apple and NASA employees, Ripcord provides an alternative to outdated records management systems. Once the records are uploaded to the company’s cloud platform, users can search, share, and connect records to other enterprise applications like SAP, Oracle, and NetSuite.

Canvas Technology raises $15M for warehouse robots

Canvas Technology Inc. raised $15 million in Series A financing. The Boulder, Colo.-based industrial automation provider is the maker of the Canvas Autonomous Cart, an autonomous mobile robot for materials handling in factories and warehouses.

The Canvas Autonomous Cart uses computer vision for continuous mapping to plan the best navigation plan. Canvas said the system can be set up on average in under 60 minutes. It also provides real-time access to route times, bottlenecks, throughput, and other data direct from the workplace.

Playground Global led the funding round with participation from previous investors, including Xplorer Capital, AME Cloud Ventures, and Morado Ventures.

Kraken Robotics issues stock to employees

Kraken Robotics Inc., which makes underwater robotic systems including sensors and the ThunderFish autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), has issued 1.7 million stock options with an exercise price of $0.18 per share. The St. John’s, Newfoundland-based company said it has offered the $306,000 in stock to help employees understand their role in its success.

“We want everyone to think like owners and do what it takes to get the job done,” said Karl Kenny, president and CEO of Kraken. “Providing options gives them a quantifiable measure that their input is helping drive the business forward and which should eventually get reflected in our stock price. We thank all our employees for their hard work and dedication.”

Surgical robot providers strive to overcome snags

TransEnterix Surgical Inc. is selling its SurgiBot assets to Chinese investor Great Belief International for $29 million. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected TransEnterix’s application to produce and market the SurgiBot in the U.S.

The Morrisville, N.C.-based company is working on other surgical robots and will work with Great Belief International to commercialize SurgiBot in other markets.

“This is a strong validation of the value of the SurgiBot platform, the world’s only abdominal surgical robot that allows surgeons to remain in the sterile field,” said Todd Pope, CEO and president of TransEnterix. “We believe this relationship provides us with a significant opportunity to expand our product offerings of robotic solutions for hospitals and patients around the world.”

Meanwhile, AlphaStar Capital Management LLC bought 8,338 shares of Mazor Robotics Ltd., valued at about $414,000. Numerous investors have recently bought stock in the Israel-based medical device provider.

While Mazor’s CEO, Ori Hadomi, is under investigation for insider trading in Israel, the company has been buoyed by its U.S. partner, Medtronic PLC.

Intuition Robotics raises $6M more for elder care robot

Intuition Robotics Ltd., whose ElliQ robot is designed to help people “age in place,” has raised $6 million from Mirai Creation Investment. Mirai is operated by Sparx Group and includes as backers Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and Toyota, which has already supported Israel-based Intuition Robotics.

Other past providers of AI funding include iRobot and equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd. ElliQ combines a tablet and a mobile robot head to engage users in conversation and activity and to help them stay in contact with the outside world.

Robotical gets seed funding for educational robot

Edinburgh, Scotland-based Robotical has obtained £285,000 ($381,000 U.S.) in seed funding for “Marty the Robot,” which had already raised £90,000 ($120,000) through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Five angel investors participated in the funding.

Marty the Robot is intended to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) interest by making it easier for children to learn coding.

Blue Frog Robotics announces new round of funding

Fenox Venture Capital led a round of funding for France-based Blue Frog Robotics, which makes Buddy, a social robot intended for educational and home entertainment use. Terms were not disclosed.

Other investors included Benoit de Maulmin, co-founder of Infogrames, and Gilles Benhamou, founder of Asteelflash.

“Fenox Venture Capital has connected Blue Frog Robotics with some of its corporate limited partners, such as Sega Sammy Holdings, a multinational video game developer and publisher, and CAC Holdings, a system development and integration company from Japan,” said Blue Frog in a press release.