Robot Investments Weekly: Self-Driving Tech Funding Keeps on Truckin’

Starsky Robotics tested its self-driving truck in Florida. Source: YouTube

March 09, 2018      

Investments in the self-driving tech market continued to gain momentum this week. We saw a huge investment by Toyota in a new self-driving car venture, as well as investments in a self-driving trucking company.

There were also noteworthy medical and healthcare robotics transactions, as well as continued investments in artificial intelligence, industrial automation, and education.

So buckle your seat belts as we review the automation transactions for the past week, as well as catch up on additional investments from the past month. Robotics Business Review subscribers can search and sort numerous company deals in our Transactions Database.

Toyota spends $2.8B on self-driving tech unit

The big self-driving tech news of the week was Toyota’s new $2.8 billion unit. The company is working with Denso Corp. and Aisin Seiki Co. to develop software for autonomous vehicles.

Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD) will be headed up by James Kuffner, who was serving as chief technology officer of the Toyota Research Institute. Kuffner said he plans to hire 1,000 programmers for the venture, as well as “lure global talent,” according to Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.

Between this investment and the $1 billion that Toyota has already invested in TRI, it’s clear that the automaker is all in on self-driving tech development.

Moving beyond cars, Starsky Robotics announced it had driven its unmanned tractor-trailer (without a trailer) for about seven miles down a straight road in Florida without much traffic.

Still, it’s pretty impressive — and a bit intimidating — to see video of an unmanned vehicle that size.

The company also announced $16.5 million in funding from Shasta Ventures, so it’s likely that we’ll see more unmanned trucking on the roads in the future.

Rounding out the self-driving tech moves was a $90 million Series A funding in Aurora Innovation at the end of February. The startup aims to provide automakers with self-driving software packages. The funding was co-led by Greylock Partners and Index Ventures.

Big moves for exoskeleton firms

Medical and healthcare robotics received investments over the past few weeks. ReWalk Robotics Ltd., an Israeli firm, raised $20 million from Hong Kong-based Timwell Corp. to expand its operations into the Chinese market. The medical device maker develops wearable robotic exoskeletons that provide hip and knee motion to aid patients with spinal cord injuries.

In addition to self-driving tech, exoskeleton companies received funding this past week.

Claire Lomas crosses the 2012 London Marathon finish line with an exoskeleton. Credit: Lulu Kyriacou

Another exoskeleton company, Chinese-based Fourier Intelligence, raised 30 million Chinese Yuan ($4.7 million) in Series A funding led by Prosperico Venture.

In a report listed on Deal Street Asia, the company said the funding would be used to “further develop and commercialize its medical robots.” The company’s products include upper-limb rehab robots and lower-limb exoskeleton robots.

Medical device company Restoration Robotics, which makes the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant System, received a $16 million investment from Clarus Ventures. The ARTAS System is a computer-assisted, physician-controlled robotic system that harvests follicular units directly from a patient’s scalp for hair restoration implementation.

Surgical robot maker Mazor Robotics has seen several investment changes — Biondo Investment Advisors increased its share in the company by $2.12 million.

Other firms, including Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holdings Inc., Global X Management Co. LLC, Crawford Lake Capital Management LLC, Dorsey Wright & Associates, and Wells Fargo & Company MN, recently increased their stakes.

Related to the medical robotics field was a $3 billion acquisition by Altra Industrial Motion Corp., which makes industrial clutches and brakes. The company is acquiring four other companies from the Automation and Specialty platform of Fortive Corp.

In a statement announcing the acquisitions, Altra CEO Carl Chrstenson said, “With Fortive A&S, we gain exposure to industries with attractive secular growth dynamics, including the medical, robotics, factory automation, and food and beverage industries.”

AI companies score big

Robotic process automation software company UiPath raised $153 million in Series B funding this week. Led by Accel, new investors include CapitalG and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

UiPath said its software lets companies design and deploy software robots that “perfectly emulate and execute repetitive processes.” The company said it will use the new money to accelerate its product roadmap, especially in the areas around machine learning and AI algorithms.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced Project Alexandria, a $125 million venture that aims to develop “common-sense AI.” The project will be located at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) in Seattle. Check out this video explanation of what “common-sense AI” entails:

Rounding out the latest AI investments was a “tens of millions of dollars” funding in Dorabot. The Chinese robotics company deploys AI to robots in the logistics market.

Led by Yunfeng Capital, the company said it will use the money to expand research and marketing teams in China and the U.S., as well as “accelerate large-scale application of fully automated loading, unloading, and sorting technology in warehouses.”

Wrapping up: Additional recent funding

Time to hit the road — here are the rest of the recent financial announcements from recent weeks. Remember you can always access the Robotics Business Review  Transactions Database to stay up to date on the latest deals and investments.

This week’s investments and self-driving tech ride is over, kids. See you next week!