Robot Investments Weekly: AI, Industrial Automation, Mobility Market Drive Spending

EasyMile has partnered with DeNA for driverless bus service in Japan.

February 03, 2018      

As the first month of 2018 drew to a close, certain patterns have already started to emerge in the global automation ecosystem. As self-driving vehicles become more capable, investors have supported sensors and machine vision startups, as well as companies that are starting to offer services to the mobility market.

Aside from transportation and robots for factories, other highlights include more big funds around artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“Robot Investments Weekly” recaps recent transactions across the robotics industry. We’ll have more information soon in our Q4 2017 and Q1 2018 transaction reports, and be sure to check out Robotics Business Review‘s updated Transactions Database!

Mobility market moves apace

The global market for self-driving cars, autonomous trucks, and related systems could be worth $7 trillion by 2050, according to Strategy Analytics and Intel Corp., by way of CNBC. That may seem far away, but for automakers and big tech firms, that’s barely enough time to adjust to the expected transformation in consumer and shipping habits.

InMotion Ventures led $15 million in investment for Voyage, which is already testing its self-driving taxis in a gated community in San Jose, Calif. Providing services to the elderly in relatively controlled environments is likely to be an early growth area for the mobility market.

Similarly, investor Alstom got on board with with an unspecified investment for EasyMile SAS‘s driverless shuttles (shown above). They have already been deployed in more than 50 sites worldwide.

CalmCar Vehicle Vision, which is developing machine vision systems for autonomous vehicles, raised a seed round of $4.6 million led by Shenzhen Guozhong Venture Capital Management.

The mobility market not only includes how your car will move, but also where you’ll leave it. Shenzhen, China-based Mall Parking garnered $12.5 million in Series B funding from Holdfound Group for its smart parking offering.

Knightscope, whose mobile security robots have expanded operations to 14 U.S. states, announced that its fourth round of funding closed on $25 million, thanks to SeedInvest, Konica Minolta, and Bright Success Capital. Knightscope’s campaign on SeedInvest was the equity crowdfunding platform’s most successful one to date.

In related technology, Connexient partnered with Riverside Acceleration Capital, which invested in its indoor navigation technology for hospitals.

Ford Motor Corp. bought two companies — Autonomic and TransLoc — for its software and services push into the mobility market. It’s “Transportation Mobility Cloud” will reportedly include connected vehicles, traffic signals, and other transportation infrastructure.

Speaking of infrastructure (and more below), Invert Robotics raised $4.69 million for its climbing inspection robots.

Banyan Capital and Greylock Partners participated in a $92 million Series A round for Nuro.ai, which is making an autonomous grocery delivery vehicle.

Also in groceries, Takeoff Technologies raised $12.5 million for a system that combines online ordering and grocery automation. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company claims that it can reduce a store’s footprint to 3,000 square feet.

PWC is helping Queensland, Australia-based SwarmFarm Robotics raise $14 million for driverless tractors.

Industrial automation still growing

Robots and AI in factories and warehouses will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% between 2016 and 2022, reaching $149 billion in 2022, predicts Market Research Future. Increasing adoption in the U.S. and China, as well as throughout Asia, will drive much of that growth, said the firm.

Thanks to technology such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and the Industrial Internet of Things, adoption in the automotive industry, which is already a heavy robotics user, will have a CAGR of 8.33%, says Research and Markets.

Validating that interest, Nikko Asset Management this week said that its robotics fund has passed 1 trillion yen, or $9 billion U.S.

Iron Ox

Iron Ox is working on greenhouses to reduce the use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.

In agricultural automation, Iron Ox raised $3 million in seed funding for its robotic greenhouses. Eniac Ventures and Amplify Partners led the round.

We haven’t seen much lately around 3D printing, but Carbon 3D made up for that with a $200 million Series D led by Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Huazhi Intelligent Manufacturing Technology Co., which provides integration and intelligent manufacturing services, raised $15 million in Series A+ from Banyan Capital and Ying Capital.

Machine vision is just as important to manufacturing as it is to the mobility market of self-driving cars and drones. Beijing Aqiu Technology Co., also known as Aqrose, successfully raised Series A funding of $8 million from Baidu Ventures, DCM Capital, and Long Capital.

Food processing company Duravant LLC purchased Key Technology Inc., which makes sorting, inspection, conveying, and processing equipment, for $175 million.

AEM Holdings acquired Finland-based Afore Oy to add the micro-electro-mechanical testing company to its portfolio. Such sensor-testing technology is important to manufacturing, robotics, and the Internet of Things.

Drones ride funding tailwinds

Although Drone Industry Insights predicts vendor consolidation in the coming year, improvements in cameras, deep learning, and robotics (or drones or data) as a service will lift this market. From infrastructure inspection and consumer applications to security and delivery, watch the skies for more UAVs!

SkySpecs plans to scale up its drone infrastructure inspection services with the $8 million Series B it received from Statkraft Ventures, Capital Midwest, and UL Ventures.

Boston-based American Robotics raised another $2 million for its autonomous precision agriculture offerings.

Samsung NEXT and Techstars Ventures invested $750,000 in Converge Industries, which is developing software for drone inspections.

The Drone Fund and Integro LTD last week invested $1 million in Sabrewing Aircraft Co., more than 140% of its angel funding. The company makes UAVs for heavy payloads and long distances.

In drone swarms, Unmanned Life raised $14.25 million in Series A funding for its “autonomy-as-a-service” drone-linking technology.

Altitude Angel plans to use its $4.5 million in investment to open offices in Europe and North America to market its GuardianUTM platform for unmanned air traffic management (UTM) platform.

AI continues to build

Machine learning and deep learning have so many applications, such as speech and voice recognition, path planning, and predictive maintenance, that it’s no surprise startups are still sprouting up. It’s the secret sauce for automation, and everyone wants some. Forbes noted that the number of startups has increased 14-fold since 2000, and venture capital flowing into AI startups has increased by sixfold in that same period.

More recently, Understand.ai got $2.8 million in seed funding led by LEA Partners for image annotation. This could be useful for the mobility market, as well as for healthcare diagnosis.

Andrew Ng is an AI pioneer.

Andrew Ng

Andrew Ng’s AI Fund has received $175 million in support from NEA, Sequoia, Greylock Partners, and last but not least, SoftBank Group.

Foundry Group led Series C funding of $15 million for Occipital, whose perception engine is intended for augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) and home robotics.

Andreessen Horowitz supported Doxel‘s seed round of $4.5 million. Doxel is developing AI to help with 3D vision and semantic analysis so that construction sites can be perceived despite poor lighting conditions and numerous obstacles.

Allure Security closed a seed round of $5.3 million led by Glasswing Ventures for its AI offerings around data security. It has already won more than $10 million in contracts from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and its team holds eight U.S. patents.

Some in the news media prefer to stoke fears of AI, but the technology could actually save many lives. InfiniteMD raised $1.5 million for its AI-based adviser for cancer treatment.

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