Although the COVID-19 pandemic began late last year in China and started affecting the global economy in March, it was April 2020 when the U.S. shut down as governments scrambled to contain the infection and its economic aftershocks. However, investment and mergers and acquisition continued to benefit automation for healthcare, cleaning, and supply chain applications.
Robotics Business Review tracked about 26 transactions worth a total of more than $600 million last month, compared with 29 deals worth $2.7 billion in March 2020 and 30 transactions worth $6.5 billion in April 2019. However, there were no reported shutdowns, even as driverless car testing, startup activity, and technology conferences faltered. According to ABI Research, 2019 was a record year for robotics, with $49 billion in investments, so there is reason for hope beyond the current crisis.
Unlike restaurants and hotels, most robotics developers, suppliers, and integrators have continued working through the COVID-19 pandemic. From drawing on stockpiled parts to continuing research or support from homes, the robotics industry has been relatively resilient. In a few applications, such as disinfection and cleaning, delivery of food and medicine, and telepresence, robots have been in high demand. The robotics community also contributed to efforts to quickly resupply personal protective equipment and ventilators.
The table below lists fundings in millions of U.S. dollars, where amounts were publicly available.
Robotics investments, April 2020
|Company||Location||Amt. (M$)||Type||Investor, acquirer, partner||Date||Technology|
|Agile Robots AG||Munich||Series A||C Ventures||April 2||AI, service robots|
|AI.Reverie||New York||5.6||investment||Vulcan Capital||April 14||computer vision|
|Anyverse||Madrid||3.3||Series A||Bullnet Capital, Inveready||April 29||perception|
|Brain Corp||San Diego||36||Series D||SoftBank Vision Fund||April 27||mobile robots|
|Certhon Group||ABC Westland, Netherlands||investment||Denso Corp.||April 1||automated greenhouse|
|Cobalt Robotics Inc.||San Mateo, Calif.||13||Series A||Sequoia||April 30||security robots|
|Crowntech Photonics||Shanghai||1.4||investment||Yunqi Partners||April 16||sensors|
|Elroy Air||San Francisco||6.78||Series A1||April 7||drone deliveries|
|FEDS Group Holdings Ltd.||Dubai||investment||Aerodyne Group||April 13||drone services|
|Huazhi Medical||Beijing||14||Series B||SDIC||April 30||surgical robot|
|Hyundai-Aptiv AD LLC||Boston||9.1||investment||April 8||autonomous vehicles|
|Inceptio Technology||Shanghai||100||investment||G7 Networks Ltd., Global Logistic Properties Ltd.||April 28||autonomous vehicles|
|Intellifusion||Shenzhen, China||141||pre-IPO||Utrust VC, Forebright Capital, Walden International||April 3||AI chips|
|Jianjia Robot Co.||Hangzhou, China||Series A||Baidu Ventures||April 25||surgical robot|
|Kalray||Grenoble, France||9||investment||NXP Semiconductors NV||April 2||self-driving cars|
|Narwhal||Dongguan, China||141||Series B||ByteDance||April 2||cleaning robots|
|Phantom AI||Burlingame, Calif.||22||Series A||Celeres Investments, Ford Motor Co., KT||April 2||ADAS software|
|Promobot||Perm, Russia||2.7||venture||Far East Tech Fund||Aprl 17||service robots|
|Qcraft Inc.||Santa Clara, Calif.||24||seed||IDG Capital||April 3||autonomous vehicles|
|Rise Robotics (LiftWave Inc.)||Somerville, Mass.||3||investment||The Engine||April 9||forklifts|
|Robocath||Rouen, France||43.76||Series C||MicroPort Scientific Corp.||April 30||surgical robot|
|Wayz Intelligent Manufacturing Technology||Wuxi, China||36||investment||Shenzhen Capital Group, CICC Qichen Fund||April 16||industrial automation|
|Youibot||Guangdong, China||seed||ZhenFund||April 14||mobile robots|
|Zvision||Beijing||9.92||Series A1||Fosun RZ Capital, Green Pine Capital||April 7||solid-state lidar|
Still, startups will need to draw on “rainy day” funds to survive until a recovery. Many businesses hope to reopen soon, despite concerns about a second wave of infections and fatalities. It remains to be seen how quickly the U.S. economy and others will be able to resume business.
“Any startup without funding for the next 24 months is going to struggle,” said Dor Skuler, CEO of Intuition Robotics. “If they don’t have enough for the next 12 months, they’re really going to struggle.”
Consolidation is likely in some sectors, but merger activity has also slowed, with only two reported acquisitions in April 2020, compared with one in the previous month and six a year ago.
Robotics acquisitions, April 2020
|Alpine||Cruise LLC||April 24||autonomous vehicles|
|DAHL Automation||HAHN Group||April 7||integrator|
Funding keeps on rolling for self-driving cars and trucks
Although shutdowns in reaction to COVID-19 have slowed work on autonomous vehicles, it hasn’t halted funding, with more than $174 million fueling companies in April 2020. Shanghai-based Inceptio Technology raised $100 million and was the first company to receive China’s A-sample validation for self-driving trucks.
IDG Capital led a $24 million seed round for Qcraft Inc. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm is developing a simulation system for driverless vehicles. Meanwhile, Burlingame, Calif.-based Phantom AI, which is working on advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), received $22 million in Series A funding.
Beijing-based Zvision obtained $9.92 million in Series A1 support as it develops solid-state lidar, and Boston-based joint venture Hyundai-Aptiv AD raised $9.1 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
NXP Semiconductors led €8 million ($9 million U.S.) in investment in Kalray, The Grenoble, France-based company is developing computing platforms for ADAS and automated driving software using NXP’s processors.
Despite layoffs this month, General Motors’ Cruise unit reportedly acquired a German company code-named “Alpine” in April 2020.
Manufacturing and logistics automation suppliers get investment
Manufacturing and supply chain transactions have not been as numerous as those for other areas of automation, but they still represent the largest markets for robotics. Wayz Intelligent Manufacturing Technology in Wuxi, China, raised $36 million in April 2020.
Guangdong, China-based Youibot Robotics raised an unspecified amount of seed funding for autonomous mobile inspection and conveyor robots.
HAHN Group, which already acquired collaborative robot maker Rethink Robotics and integrator REI Automation, added German integrator DAHL Automation to its portfolio.
Japanese automotive supplier Denso Corp. participated in unspecified investment in Dutch company Certhon Group, which is developing fully automated greenhouses.
On the logistics side, drone delivery firm Elroy Air in San Francisco got $6.78 million in Series A1 investment. Somerville, Mass.-based LiftWave Inc., doing business as Rise Robotics, raised $3 million for high-performance linear actuators for forklifts and heavy-duty autonomous systems. It also raised $7.3 million out of a $7.8 million offering, according to an SEC filing.
Surgical and service robots gain relevance in April 2020
Not surprisingly, surgical, assistive, and cleaning robots have done better than retail and customer-service systems in the past few months. Rouen, France-based cardiovascular system developer Robocath got €40 million ($43.76 million) in Series C funding as it expands into Asian markets.
Huazhi (HOZ) Medical closed a Series B round of 100 million yuan ($14 million). The Beijing company claimed that its neurosurgical robots have assisted in about 100,000 procedures.
Baidu Ventures led an unspecified Series A round for Hangzhou, China-based Jianjia Robot which is developing robots to aid orthopedic surgeons.
In service robotics, Brain Corp., which provides autonomy to mobile robots for cleaning and materials handling, raised Series D funding of $36 million.
Dongguan, China-based Narwal Robotics received Series B funding of 100 million yuan ($14 million), led by TikTok owner ByteDance, for its cleaning robots. Cobalt Robotics, which makes security systems, reportedly raised $13 million in its Series A round.
Promobot, which makes humanoid service robots for retail, raised $2.7 million in venture funding. The Perm, Russia-based company recently pivoted its system as an offering for social distancing.
Agile Robots in Munich also reported “eight-digit” Series A funding, in its case, for robotic arms guided by AI and machine vision to assist workers in multiple industries.
AI, component companies complete April 2020
The largest single investment of April 2020 was the $141 million pre-IPO funding of Intellifusion in Shenzhen, China. It is working on processors for artificial intelligence that could be useful for robotics, autonomous vehicles, and more.
In-Q-Tel recently invested in a number of technology companies, including $5.6 million in computer vision software developer AI.Reverie in New York.
Madrid-based Anyverse had a €3 million ($3.3 million) Series A round as it develops synthetic data for training perception systems. On the other side of the world, Shanghai-based Crowntech Photonics raised $1.4 million for sensor technology.
We at WTWH Media wish all of our U.S. readers a happy Memorial Day weekend!
Editors’ note: What defines robotics investments? The answer to this simple question is central in any attempt to quantify them with some degree of rigor. To make investment analyses consistent, repeatable, and valuable, it is critical to wring out as much subjectivity as possible during the evaluation process. This begins with a definition of terms and a description of assumptions.
Investors and investing
Investment should come from venture capital firms, corporate investment groups, angel investors, and other sources. Friends-and-family investments, government/non-governmental agency grants, and crowd-sourced funding are excluded.
Robotics and intelligent systems companies
Robotics companies must generate or expect to generate revenue from the production of robotics products (that sense, analyze, and act in the physical world), hardware or software subsystems and enabling technologies for robots, or services supporting robotics devices. For this analysis, autonomous vehicles (including technologies that support autonomous driving) and drones are considered robots, while 3D printers, CNC systems, and various types of “hard” automation are not.
Companies that are “robotic” in name only, or use the term “robot” to describe products and services that that do not enable or support devices acting in the physical world, are excluded. For example, this includes “software robots” and robotic process automation. Many firms have multiple locations in different countries. Company locations given in the analysis are based on the publicly listed headquarters in legal documents, press releases, etc.
Funding information is collected from a number of public and private sources. These include press releases from corporations and investment groups, corporate briefings, industry analysts, and association and industry publications. In addition, information comes from sessions at conferences and seminars, as well as during private interviews with industry representatives, investors, and others. Unverifiable investments are excluded.
About the author:
Eugene Demaitre is senior editor at The Robot Report and Robotics Business Review. Prior to working at WTWH Media, he was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and EH Media. Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master’s from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.