Robot Investments Weekly: Boston-area Robotics Firms Score Funding
April 26, 2019      

It was a relatively slow week in the robotics and automation space, at least compared to previous weeks and months. But at least two firms in Boston were still happy with the week, as they have raised some additional money to grow their businesses.

This week we’re only highlighting a few recent transactions covering the robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence space. 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.

Locus, Ava raise money to grow businesses

Locus Robotics Snowy Owl release

Source: Locus Robotics

At least two Boston-area robotics companies scored funding this week. Locus Robotics, which announced closing a $26 million Series C funding round, included investments from Zebra Ventures and Scale Venture Partners.

The Wilmington, Mass.-based company said it would use the additional funding to scale production of its warehouse fulfillment robotics system, as well as expand sales and marketing efforts in North American and around the world.

You can read more here in our report from earlier this week.

Ava Robotics telepresence robot

Ava Robotics telepresence robot lets remote workers collaborate with colleagues anywhere in the office. (Credit: Ava Robotics)

Ava Robotics, which launched its telepresence robotics platform last year, announced this week it had raised about $3 million in an equity sale and other options, according to a SEC Form D filing. In a statement to Robotics Business Review, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company said the round was led by Innospark Ventures, and it would “leverage the funding to increase sales and marketing for the Ava Telepresence solution, as well as add new capabilities to the Ava intelligent mobile robot platform.” The company, which includes a technical heritage from iRobot, designs and builds intelligent that “comfortably coexist with humans in workplaces and other large spaces.”

Hitachi to enter U.S. market with JR Automation acquisition

Earlier this week Hitachi, Ltd. announced it would acquire the robotics system integration business operated by JR Automation, for approximately $1.4 billion. As a result of the acquisition, Hitachi said it would enter the business in North America, “which is a region that is expected to see a high rate of growth.” The company said it would expect to close the acquisition by the end of 2019, subject to regulatory and other closing conditions.

Hitachi JR Automation graphic Boston article

Since its founding in 1980, JR Automation has been building production lines that incorporate industrial robots, especially in robot-based assembly and welding processes. It has served a customer base across industries, including automotive, aerospace, e-commerce, and the medical device industries.

“Securing JR Automation’s robotic SI business in North America is an important milestone for us,” said Masakazu Aoki, executive vice president at Hitachi. “By providing customers with new value that combines Hitachi’s products, OT, IT, and advanced digital technologies, we will accelerate the global rollout of our Social Innovation Business.”

Military investments in unmanned systems continues

With a slower-than-normal week of investments in this space, I wanted to catch up on some military investments, which again include lots of funding for unmanned systems in the air and sea. These include:

  • Hydroid, which earned a $23 million contract from the U.S. Navy for production support for the MK 18 family of unmanned underwater vehicle systems.
  • General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which won a $99 million contract from the U.S. Army for support of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system.
  • FLIR Systems, which earned a $1.8 million order from the British Army for its Black Hornet 3 Personal Reconnaissance System.
  • Several companies earned part of a $98.6 million contract for engineering support services for the Air Traffic Control and Landing Systems, as well as programs such as the Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems, and unmanned programs for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and other Department of Defense activities.

Finding each other through magnetic fields

Oriient, developers of a high-performance indoor GPS platform, announced closing $4 million in seed funding this week. The company is working with retailers, airports, malls and wholesalers to allow customers to navigate large areas and locate items with pin-point accuracy. Instead of using beacons or Wi-Fi, the system is based on the Earth’s magnetic field and users’ smartphones. If successful, I could see robotics companies looking to utilize this technology on their equipment, similar to what Humatics is doing in the microlocation space. It’s worth keeping an eye on this company and its technology.

Overall Q1 2019 activity was huge

We’ve run out of transactions, but I wanted to point out a new report that’s free if you’re interested in the overall investment space for Q1 2019. While it feels like there’s fewer investments in robotics companies compared to last year, a new report by Pitchbook says otherwise. In this article, the website said that U.S. venture capital spending could break multiple records in 2019. Their free report is available for download here.

That’s it for this week, stay cool everyone!