It wasn’t just consumers who used the post-Thanksgiving ‘holidays’ of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to begin their holiday shopping. Investors also opened their wallets over the past week, shelling out holiday gifts in the form of funding for several robotics, automation, autonomous vehicle, and artificial intelligence startups companies. Fa la la la la!
Today, we’re highlighting 27 recent robotics and AI transactions. If you’ve missed some other transactions from the past months, you can track them in the RBR Transactions Database. Our regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type.
If you’re an RBR Insider, don’t forget to check out the Q3 Transactions Report, which showcases and analyzes major investments from July through September 2018. It’s free for Insider subscribers to Robotics Business Review.
Big bucks for robot companies
Let’s start with the big deals – on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, China-based Geek+ announced it had raised a whopping $150 million in Series B funding for its AI-enabled mobile logistics robots. Since 2017, Warburg Pincus has invested approximately $100 million in the company, and other shareholders include Volcanics Venture and Vertex Ventures.
The Beijing-based company’s systems include a “cargo-to-man” picking system, an intelligent moving system, an intelligent sorting system, and an automated forklift “to cover the entire process of warehousing, logistics, and manufacturing. Geek+ Inc. said it is capable of “helping customers achieve highly automated, or unmanned warehouses and factories.”
Geek+ said it has delivered more than 5,000 robots to sites across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Europe, and the U.S.. It has partnerships at multinational companies in vertical markets that include e-commerce, logistics, automotive, fashion, and pharmaceuticals.
The company said the $150 million is the largest-ever investment in a logistics robot company, and it follows many other high-profile investments in the mobile robot and logistics space. Over the past two years, companies such as Grey Orange, Locus Robotics, Fetch Robotics, 6 River Systems and IAM Robotics have received funding for their solutions.
If you thought that was a big investment, let’s move to the healthcare space. Auris Health announced a $220 million growth financing round, led by Partner Fund Management. The money will be used to advance commercialization and development of its next-generation robotic “interventional technology,” a.k.a. surgical robotic system.
The company’s Monarch Platform is currently FDA-cleared for diagnostic and therapeutic bronchoscopic procedures, in which doctors use a flexible robotic endoscope through the periphery of the lungs.
“Combining traditional endoscopic views with computer-assisted navigation based on patient-specific 3D models, the Monarch Platform provides physicians with continuous bronchoscope vision, computed guidance and precise instrument control throughout the entire procedure,” Auris Health said in a statement.
With lung cancer the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, the company said its goal is to have Monarch enable more accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment of small and hard-to-reach nodules in the periphery of the lung.
Frederic Moll, M.D., founder and CEO of Auris Health, said the investment would be instrumental as the company transitions to a commercial-stage company.
“We are pleased with our progress in launching the Monarch Platform, which was initiated earlier this year,” he said. “This funding will enable us to expand our commercialization efforts for endobronchial applications, and will also support our mission to pioneer the next era of medical intervention across a broader spectrum of procedures.”
Speaking of Auris Health, the next Women in Robotics Meetup will be held at Auris Health’s offices in Redwood City, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. Speakers include Dr. Moll; Dusty Robotics’ CEO Tessa Lau, and Kathy Shen, VP of people and culture at Auris Health.
Another health-related robotics company is Roam Robotics, which this week secured a $12 million Series A investment led by Yahama Motor. The company is developing robotic exoskeletons “to enhance strength, speed, and endurance for everyday people.
Roam’s platform uses high-strength fabrics and air power to reduce device weight and cost, avoiding high-tolerance metal components “in favor of affordable mass manufacturing processes like sewing and molding.”
The company’s first product is ELEVATE, an exoskeleton designed for skiiers to boost their experience. The device boosts quad strength to give more control, stronger turns, and longer runs while reducing muscle fatigue and joint pressure. The company said ELEVATE will be available this winter for demo rentals in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Park City, Utah.
“Roam exists to change the boundaries of human mobility,” said Tim Swift, CEO and founder of Roam. “That boundary is different for every person, but they exist for everyone. Whether you are an Olympian, an everyday athlete, or looking to regain lost mobility, we want to power you beyond what your body currently makes possible.”
I totally want to go skiing now.
Automotive industry continues shift to autonomous vehicles
GM shocked the world this week with its announcement of plant closures in several U.S. states, shifting its focus to making larger SUV-style vehicles and autonomous vehicle development. As part of this move, its self-driving car division, Cruise, has new leadership. Dan Amman was named CEO of Cruise, while co-founder and former CEO Kyle Vogt is becoming the president and chief technology officer.
Other companies continued their investments in the autonomous vehicle space in recent weeks. AEye announced a $40 million Series B round for the further development of its iDAR perception system. The company also announced that its system could detect and track a truck at 1,000 meters away, four to five times the distance of other current lidar systems. More details are provided here, as well as the video below:
A business aiming to change the operating system that self-driving cars launched recently. Apex.AI announced raising $15.5 million in funding to develop a safer and optimized version of the Robot Operating System specifically for autonomous vehicles.
While not related specifically to self-driving cars, two other automotive-based companies announced investments that utilize unique computer vision techniques. Phiar, based in Palo Alto, Calif., raised $3 million in seed funding to further develop a navigation app for smartphones that uses computer vision and machine learning techniques to give on-screen navigation suggestions. The app displays a driver’s real-world surroundings but augments it with a painted path for turns and other directions. Check it out in this video:
The company said the app will likely come in 2019 for general availability, it should be interesting to see whether this replaces my Waze app on the car’s dashboard.
Another company aiming to assist with drivers in the car is Guardian Optical Technologies, which announced raising $2.5 million to extend an earlier funding round led by Toyota’s Mirai Creation Fund.
Using computer vision, the company is developing an in-car platform with sensors that capture high-res videos and 3D maps simultaneously, detecting when riders enter the car, monitoring children in the back seats, and adjusting the force of an airbag’s deployment in a collision (see the video below). It’s likely that this technology would be utilized in autonomous vehicles to provide those systems with data about the passengers entering, riding, and leaving the vehicles.
AI Corner: Qualcomm commits $100M to AI startups
I’ve discussed many times in this column about the growing investments in companies developing artificial intelligence systems, so it’s not surprising to hear of more companies creating investment funds specifically at startups in the AI space. This week, it was Qualcomm, which created the Qualcomm Ventures AI Fund, investing $100 million in startups in the AI space.
“The fund will focus on startups that share the vision of on-device AI becoming more powerful and widespread, with an emphasis on those developing new technology for autonomous cars, robotics and machine learning platforms,” Qualcomm said in the statement announcing the fund.
The fund this summer participated in the Series A funding round for AnyVision, which is using facial, body and object recognition technologies. AnyVision “enables any camera to become smarter by indexing and analyzing everything the sensor sees.” The company also has teamed up with NVIDIA to create facial and body recognition technology for smart cities through its Metropolis initiative.
AnyVision is developing computer vision and artificial intelligence technologies for the “recognition space”, which includes not only facial recognition, but body recognition and object recognition. The company says its technology “enables any camera to become smarter by indexing and analyzing everything the sensor sees.” The company recently teamed up with NVIDIA to create facial and body recognition technology for smart cities through the company’s Metropolis initiative.
Here are some additional AI-related investments from recent weeks:
- Primer Raises $40M to Expand AI-Based Language Data Analysis Platform
- Apple Acquires Silk Labs for AI Software for Devices
- Medtronic to Acquire Nutrino Health for Nutrition Data Technologies
- AI Firm Aquant Raises Funding to Expand Insight Platform for CRM, Workforce Management
- London AI Firm Banuba Scores Funds for AR, Computer Vision Platform
- Chinese AI Firm Aibee Earns $60M for Retail AI Platform
- Blue J Legal Earns Funding for AI-based Legal Research Platform
Wrapping up the rest
Because we didn’t have a column last week, the following should catch us up with two weeks of additional transactions. Click the links if you’re interested in hearing more about the following transactions:
- Private Equity Firm Buys Italian Gripper Company Gimatic
- K. Firm Animal Dynamics Raises Funds for Autonomous Drones for the Military
- Alphabet Shuts Down Schaft Bipedal Robot Development
- TECSYS Acquires OrderDynamics for E-Commerce Order Management System
- IPG Photonics Acquires Robotic Welding Firm Genesis Systems
- UCC, QBIT Robotics Team Up On Japan Robot Coffee Venture
- Japan Awards Contract to Northrop Grumman for Surveillance Drones
- ZYFRA Group Acquires VIST for Intelligent Mining Technology
- Boeing, SparkCognition Launch SkyGrid Venture for Aerial Autonomy Software
- Insitu Awarded $18M for Modified Contract on ScanEagle UAVs
- Australia Awards Contract to XTEK for Drone Spare Parts
- German VR Firm R3DT Raises Seed Funding to Expand Engineering Software Platform
Have a great weekend, everyone!