It’s too soon to declare that investments in the robotics and automation space have cooled, but it certainly feels that way over the past few weeks. While funding for artificial intelligence companies (or software companies that claim to have AI underpinnings) continue apace, I’m getting the feeling that funding activity has slowed a bit for other market segments that we track, including autonomous driving, pure robotics, and even the aerial drone space.
This week, for example, we’re highlighting 12 recent transactions in the space we normally track, and even some of those are on the periphery of robotics and automation (mainly they land in the AI application space). As always, 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.
UAV-related companies earn investments
Let’s start this week with the unmanned aerial systems space, where there were a couple of interesting transactions. In South Africa, Aerobotics announced it had raised $2 million in funding to further its aerial analytics software platform, particularly in the farming space. For the company, it’s more about the software platform than the vehicle capturing the data, however – it’s not just about UAS doing all of the work.
In the U.K., Animal Dynamics acquired Accelerated Dynamics for its UAS fleet management platform, for an undisclosed amount. Animal Dynamics is a cool company that develops UAVs inspired by nature, including its Skeeter (modeled after dragonflies) and Stork (inspired by bird flight mechanics). Accelerated Dynamics, founded in 2016, developed an operating platform that simplifies the management of multiple drones, which lets operators run vehicle fleets to ensure collision avoidance and make intelligent decisions through sensors and video feeds from connected devices.
The company said the acquisition will enhance its ability to fly and manage multiple UAVs autonomously in several different scenarios. “There are significant opportunities for Stork and Skeeter in markets such as logistics, emergency response, defense and agriculture,” said Alex Caccia, CEO and co-founder of Animal Dynamics. “The ability to deploy fleets of autonomous drones will deliver significant efficiency and productivity gains over single use deployments. With a fully integrated hardware and software stack, we can speed up our time-to-market and have the flexibility to meet the diverse needs of customers for autonomous vehicles.”
Bringing automated driving to more people
Moving slightly from the air to the ground, an investment in the automated driving space caught my eye this week. Israel’s Brodmann17 announced it had raised $11 million in Series A funding from new and existing investors. The company will use the money to expand its partnerships, accelerate integration of its deep learning solution with customers, and “continue its mission to put efficient, powerful automated driving capabilities in every vehicle.”
The company makes an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) through software, instead of bulkier, costlier and power-inefficient hardware. The company aims to make its deep learning perception technology so efficient that it can run on any hardware, including low-power processors.
China’s AtomRobot scores more funding
The one industrial robotics transaction we were able to track this week comes from China, where AtomRobot announced raising at least $1.48 million in Series B1 funding (the article from China Money Network said the company had raised ‘tens of millions of yuan’, which means it could be more than the $1.48 million). Founded in 2013, the company produces parallel robots specialized in high-speed and high-accuracy handling and assorting missions for manufacturing. It claims to have delivered nearly 1,000 robots in 2018, with more than 300 clients in the food, pharmaceutical, and electronics industries.
The company plans to use the funding from this round for business expansion, as well as products research and development. It said it will construct a new 7,000-square-meter plant, and increase manufacturing capacity to 5,000 units per year.
Contract manufacturing gets a boost
Many robotics startups I speak with use contract manufacturers to produce parts or build their entire robot, so this news should interest them. Fictive announced plans to scale up its contract manufacturing platform following the closing of a $33 million Series C funding round. The company said it will use the new funds to accelerate work on digitizing and automating its manufacturing workflow as a way to provide more transparency, reduce the resources needed for supply chain management, and lower to cost to access manufacturers worldwide.
The company provides 3D printing, CNC, urethane casting and injection molding options, as well as finishing and post-processing services, among other services.
Could robots learn how to smell?
The most interesting funding news from the week comes from Japan, where Aroma Bit announced scoring $2.2 million in funding to advance its smell sensor platform. With investors sucha s the Sony Innovation Fund, it’s likely that robotics would be an offshoot of their main platform, which is to develop a compact odor imaging sensor. The device is able to output a visual pattern when exposed to various odors, mimicking a “living olfactory system,” unlike conventional gas sensors, which specialize in detection of pre-targeted chemical compound gases, the company said.
The company said it is looking for customers in the areas such as food and beverage, consumer goods, cosmetics, industrial machinery, robotics, mobility, healthcare, agriculture, and marketing. IN 2018, the company announced two products – the aroma coder, a high-sensitivity and high-odor resolution desktop-type odor measurement instrument; and a sensor module development system development kit.
While it’s likely that these sensors will be used to detect dangerous smells such as gases or chemical leaks, it’s not too far of a stretch to see these put into humanoid robots that might be able to detect a particular smell (perhaps as a way to identify people?). The nose knows, amiright?
AI Corner: All about applications
As usual, this week’s investments in the AI space tend to focus on companies applying AI or machine learning algorithms to their software application to create a better system. Investments included:
- Shift Technology, which earned $60 million for its AI-based insurance claims platform.
- Functionize (image, right), which raised $16 million for its AI-based and cloud-based software testing platform.
- LinkSquares, which raised $4.8 million to develop its AI-based system for legal contract analytics.
- NextHealth Technologies, which earned $17 million for expansion of its AI-based health analytics platform.
Wrapping up the rest
With the arrival of Daylight saving time on Sunday, we’re going to lose an hour of sleep, so I’m going to wrap this up early this week. Two other transactions worth mentioning include:
- Mocana, which raised $15 million in new funding for its Industrial IoT security system.
- Kratos, which bought a majority share of Florida Turbine Technology (FTT), which builds engines that also include UAV engines.
As you could see this week, it was a real mish-mash, hodgepodge, hullaballoo of variety this week. See you next week!