Humatics microlocation system

Humatics’ microlocation technology is intended to enable more precision.

February 10, 2018      

The first full week of February 2018 might have been slippery for some self-driving car companies — more on that below — but it was another strong one for automation, particularly the components driving robots and artificial intelligence.

For more information, visit 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.

Rivals vie for the limelight

Two startups looking to overcome the physical limitations of Moore’s Law got funding this week. Each was founded by a co-author of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Photonic integrated circuits.

Photonics uses light rather than electrons for computing.

Boston-based Lightelligence obtained $10 million in seed funding led by China-based Baidu Ventures. Meanwhile, Lightmatter Inc., also in Boston, raised $11 million in Series A from Matrix Partners and Spark Capital.

As the name implies, both are working on photonic processors. This component technology could change how computing is accomplished and potentially allowing for more and faster calculations, which would be helpful to AI.

AI for health and security

In other recent AI transactions, Paige.AI closed on a $25 million Series A round led by Breyer Capital. The New York company is developing a “Pathology AI Guidance Engine” to analyze pathology slides for breast, prostate, and other common cancers. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has agreed to exclusively share 25 million slides and intellectual property with Paige.AI.

Aperio Systems got $4.5 million in seed funding from Energias de Portugal (EDP) and others for its intrusion prevention system, which is designed to protect critical infrastructure that’s connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

“The utility sector is embracing the digital world at an incredible speed — with devices including smart meters, smart home devices, and smartphones — making us ever more dependent on sensors to run and secure our most critical systems from malicious attacks and damage,” said Louis Manuel, an executive board member at EDP Inovação. “By protecting critical assets — be they isolated systems or IoT connected to physical systems — Aperio Systems offers resilience along with peace of mind. As a customer, and now investor, EDP is proud to partner with Aperio Systems to accelerate its growth globally.”

SkyWatch, which provides risk-reduction and data analysis services to the drone industry, raised $2 million in seed funding from F2 Capital, Verizon Ventures, and Kaedan Capital, as well as former executives at insurance companies such as Axa and Liberty Mutual. (SkyWatch shouldn’t be confused with the satellite data company of the same name.)

Israel-based FIMI Opportunity Funds bought electronics firm AItech Rugged Group Inc. from Netherlands-based investors for $30 million. Chatsworth, Calif.-based AItech builds embedded computing systems for the military and aerospace industries.

Components, software companies get funding

Battery Ventures this week closed two funds valued at a total of $1.25 billion. The Boston-based venture capital firm invests in software, mobile, industrial, and Web startups, such as pet-care startup Wag, which also got $300 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund.

For actual solid-state batteries, Ionic Materials Inc. raised $65 million in Series C from automakers Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Renault.

Mold & Robotics Group bought Independence, Mo.-based plastic injection mold company Dollins Tool Inc. It is being added to CBW Automation as part of H. Müller-Fabrique de Moules SA’s industrial automation portfolio.

In France, investment firm Capzanine invested an unspecified amount in Groupe Alphitan, which specializes in the maintenance of production equipment and electronics, and has experience with robotics components.

On the software side, Humatics sold $7.2 million in stock for its “microlocation” technology, which could help robots navigate more precisely than current GPS allows.

MachineMetrics Inc. is in the midst of a Series A round for its algorithms, which says it “has simplified IoT for the shop floor.” It’s automated systems provide visualizations of production data, enabling manufacturers to determine in real time whether CNC (computer numerical control) machines require maintenance.

States support assistive technologies

Baltimore-based NextStep Robotics closed on $750,000 in funding from the Maryland Momentum Fund and Fort Capital. It is is developing a device to treat “foot-drop syndrome,” which affects diabetes, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease patients.

In India, Unicorn India Ventures signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kerala Startup Mission to invest in three startups, including GenRobotic Innovations Pvt. Ltd. The company is working to combine exoskeletons with remote controlled systems and AI.

Originally a student research project, Genrobotics exoskeletons are intended for eventual use in healthcare, industrial, and military use.

In other state news, the MassWorks Infrastructure Program has provided a $2.5 million grant to MassRobotics, which plans to triple its collaborative space for startups in Boston.

Both the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston have supported MassRobotics, whose partners include Amazon Robotics, GE, iRobot, Panasonic, Harmonic Drive, and Vecna Robotics.

Automotive maneuvers

Toyota Research Institute has provided a $1 million grant to continue its support of the Open Source Robotics Foundation. As its commercials during the Olympic Games have shown, Toyota is positioning itself as a mobility technology company instead of just an automaker, with robotics “improving the quality of life and extending independence.”

One of the biggest automation news items of the past week wasn’t an investment but a settlement. Uber Technologies Inc. will pay $245 million in shares to Waymo to end a dispute over trade secrets.

Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., had sued Uber, claiming that a former engineer took documents with him to Uber. The shares will end the lawsuit.