Robot Investments Weekly: Robots and AR Clean up With New Funding

The team at Avidbots and Neo, its robotic floor scrubber. Source: Avidbots

March 22, 2019      

Investors turned their attention and wallets to two main groups of companies this week – firms looking to add augmented reality features to systems, and robot companies – yes, actual physical robot companies!

This week we’re highlighting 14 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.

Robot cleaners, low-cost arms, and autonomous luggage

Let’s start off with some robot companies. Avidbots announced closing a $23.6 million Series B funding round to help develop and deploy its Neo robot, an advanced robotic floor scrubber (see photo, above). The company said it would use the funding to help bring Neo to hundreds of additional locations worldwide, as well as accelerate hiring and “invest in engineering, sales, and marketing.”

The Kitchener, Ontario-based company has raised $36 million to date, and Neo is currently deployed in airports, warehouses, manufacturing sites, malls, and universities in more than a dozen countries. The company said Neo has cleaned more than half a billion square feet of floor space.

“With strong worldwide demand for our Neo industrial cleaning robot, Avidbots has been growing at a tremendous pace,” said Faizan Sheikh, CEO and co-founder of Avidbots. “With this new funding, we will accelerate investment in talent acquisition, engineering, marketing, and sales to bring our cutting-edge robots to more customers worldwide.”

The company said Neo uses AI software to optimize its performance – it doesn’t just follow a set path, “but instead continually learns from its environment to change its route on the fly – avoiding obstacles and adapting to new floor layouts.”

In the U.K., Automata this week announced launching a $6,600 robotic arm named Eva that can be mounted to any flat surface (table, desktop, workbench), and be controlled via a standard computer browser. In addition to the robot arm, the London-based company announced raising $7.4 million in Series A funding round, led by Belgium’s Hummingbird Ventures.

The company also developed a software system, called Choreograph, that lets users configure the sequences they need Eva to complete, along with integration with third-party programs.

Over in China, ForwardX Robotics has raised $14.9 million in additional funding to help continue developing its autonomous robots, including the luggage that follows you around. The company made a big splash at this year’s CES 2019 show, and follows an earlier funding round in 2018.

Kaarta scores funding for 3D mapping system

Last September, I was fortunate to meet with officials from Kaarta, a Pittsburgh-based company developing mobile mapping and localization technology. After seeing their demonstration, in which we walked around the offices holding a small device that captured information to immediately create a digital map and representation of the area, I was convinced that this company would succeed. This week, the company announced raising $6.5 million to help accelerate its growth.

Kaarta point cloud office layout

An example of an office layout point cloud, created by the Kaarta mobile mapping technology. Source: Kaarta

Kaarta’s real-time mobile 3D reality capture is able to map complex environments without using external signature infrastructure, such as GPS or Wi-Fi. The company said that professionals in architecture, engineering, construction, and property owner/operators, facilities managers, and mobile robotics developers can map and model indoor and outdoor spaces up to 10 times faster than traditional mapping methods.

Kevin Dowling Kaarta CEO robots funding article

Kevin Dowling, Kaarta CEO and co-founder.

“Our investor group brings deep strategic expertise in property development, asset management, and commercial real estate as well as insights into the robotics and AI space,” said Kaarta CEO Kevin Dowling. “Pittsburgh, with its world-renowned robotics institutions, access to technical talent, and abundance of industry partners, is the ideal place for the further advancement of our technologies.”

Kaarta Contour mobile mapping

Kaarta’s Contour mobile mapping device. Source: Kaarta

Badger Technologies is using Kaarta’s mapping system to create a master map of grocery and other retail stores allowing its autonomous robots to navigate the stores to focus on identifying mispriced, misplaced, or out-of-stock inventory items. “Using Kaarta, we can map a 60,000-square-foot store in an hour or less,” said Mark Shake, business development manager at Badger, a division of Jabil. “We have already captured over 400 retail locations for our first customer, and are excited to expand our rollout, plus develop new opportunities in the retail space.

Markforged Series D funding to ramp up industrial 3D printing

Markforged, a leader in the industrial 3D printer space, this week closed $82 million in Series D round of funding. The company said it will use the additional capital to help accelerate its product roadmap, including the introduction of mass production printers and new materials. In addition, funds will be used to enhance the company’s global expansion plans, strengthen its position among global manufactures, “and ultimately help to reshape the $12 trillion manufacturing industry.”

Markforged MarkTwo 3D printer Dexter article

Markforged MarkTwo. Source: Markforged

“Markforged set out to change the pace of human innovation by enabling engineers, inventors, and manufactures to print industrial-grade parts at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods,” said Greg Mark, CEO and co-founder at Markforged.

The Watertown, Mass.-based company was founded in 2013, when companies “were forced to choose between million-dollar 3D printing systems; less expensive printers capable of only producing weak plastic parts; or the massive complexities and costs of traditional processes, often just to produce a single part,” the company said. “For the first time in the history of manufacturing, it is more economical to print numerous metal or carbon fiber parts than to produce those parts through legacy means.”

The company said it has shipped more than 2,500 industrial printers in 2018 alone, serving customers in more than 50 countries. With more than 250 employees globally, the company has raised $137 million in strategic and venture capital.

Augmenting reality through technology

There were several investments recently around augmented reality (AR) technologies. Mojo Vision announced raising $58 million in Series B funding to continue development of its “invisible computing” concept. “Invisible Computing is designed to give people anytime and anywhere access to vital information, without the intrusion of today’s devices that can distract us from our personal connections and the world around us,” the company said in a statement.

What’s interesting is that the company has not discussed any immediate specifics about product availability or planned form factors, other than it’s not a mobile form factor like a smartphone. The company recently released a report “exploring the impact of device distraction on personal and business relationships, and how new technology advances may address these issues.” In a survey of 1,000 consumers, 65% expressed concern that excessive time on devices hurts the quality of interactions with the people around them.

Ario Technologies, creator of the Ario AR software-as-a-service platform, announced raising $1 million in funding. The company said it will use the funding to “further capitalize on its position as an emerging leader in the enterprise AR industry,” by helping companies increase worker efficiency, reduce training time, and provide remote-expert assistance.

“The Ario platform is a natural next step in the application of technology in the manufacturing process, as well as in training the next generation of workers,” said Jerry Miller of 757 Angels, one of the investors of the company. “The company has a wide range of customers already, including Fortune 500 companies that need to help improve production efficiency, and the U.S. military that needs to train soldiers and sailors in the operation and maintenance of complex equipment. The Ario platform enables these various organizations to meet goals that were before out of reach.”

Scope AR announced closing $9.7 million in Series A funding for its enterprise-class AR systems. The company’s cross-platform AR tools are designed to help workers get the knowledge they need, when they need it. The platform supports smartphones, tablets and wearables, and the company touts customers such as Boeing, Toyota, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, GE, and others. The company’s WorkLink and Remote AR have provided ROI in the aerospace, consumer packaged goods, and manufacturing industries, the company said.

AI and RPA Corner: sales, assistants, chatbots

You didn’t think I’d forget about this week’s AI-related investments, did you?

Wrapping up the rest

My NCAA bracket is busted – oh, wait, I didn’t fill one out this year. Anyway, if you enjoy the college basketball, this is the best weekend to watch. Before I go, here are a few other transactions that I didn’t categorize:

Have a great weekend, everyone!