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Robot Investments Weekly: Mobile Robots, 3D Printing Score Funding

Credit: MiR

April 27, 2018      

A big acquisition this week by Boston-based Teradyne puts the mobile robots market into the spotlight in the investments arena, after a few weeks of AI-based company transactions. In addition, companies in the 3D printing market earned attention from venture capital firms.

Money continues to pour in for companies related to the robotics and AI space. These investments and more can be found in theĀ RBR Transactions Database, which lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type.

Could consolidation be on horizon for mobile robots?

While it wasn’t the biggest transaction of the week in terms of dollar value, Teradyne’s purchase of Denmark-based Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) could spark additional acquisitions within the very hot mobile robot space. Teradyne, which already owns Universal Robots, could also use the acquisition as a way to develop autonomous mobile robots that can manipulate objects.

Ash Sharma Interact Analysis

Ash Sharma, Interact Analysis

Ash Sharma, research director at Interact Analysis, said the potential combination of the two companies’ technologies would be an interesting development.

“Combining a mobile robot platform with a collaborative arm could prove to be a niche, but high-value product,” Sharma said. “As was seen recently with the partnership between Vecna and RightHand Robotics, a fixed articulated arm combined with mobile conveyors feeding and moving away stock can be an attractive and more cost-effective solution.”

Even if the two divisions don’t collaborate on a new solution, Teradyne’s geographic reach and infrastructure will help MiR accelerate its growth and lower its supply costs, Sharma said. Within the mobile robot space, “MiR and its competitors have been installing low volumes of robots at a high number of customers,” he said. “These customers have now concluded their piloting phase and are likely to ramp up deployment of mobile robots at their facilities, which will lead to exponential growth in the next few years.”

Mobile Robot Forecast Revenues Manufacturing

Chart courtesy of Interact Analysis

The Teradyne acquisition is also expected to trigger additional acquisitions in three main ways:

  • Early-stage acquisitions: Industrial automation companies will likely continue to enter the market for mobile robots through acquisition or by developing their own technology, Sharma said. “Mobile automation is becoming increasingly common in manufacturing environments, and industrial automation vendors no doubt view it as a complementary and high-growth product line,” he added.
  • Partnerships that turn into acquisitions: “Increasingly, we’re seeing incumbent technology providers such as manual forklift companies offering automated vehicles as a defensive move,” Sharma said. As competition heats up around mobile robots, more acquisitions could occur, he said.
  • Later-stage exits and acquisitions: As the industry matures and competition grows, weaker companies and those with higher cost structures could either fail or be acquired, Sharma said.

3D printer market heats up

This week saw at least three investments that demonstrated continued interest in the additive manufacturing space. Morf3D, a startup in metals-based 3D printing, received Series A investment from Boeing’s HorizonX Ventures. The company said it will use the investment to increase its engineering staff. It also plans to collaborate with Boeing to further develop its manufacturing processes and engineering capabilities.

Formlabs announced this week it raised $30 million in Series C funding, led by Tyche Partners. The company said it has now raised $85 million for its 3D printing systems. The new funding will be used to expand its product portfolio, scale operations to meet demand, particularly in China and Asia, the company said.

Somervlle, Mass.-based Formlabs also said it will soon be opening a new 18,000-square foot facility to add to its headquarters.

Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro

Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro

Seattle-based Glowforge announced an additional $10 million from existing investors True Ventures and Foundry Group. The company also announced that it would open up sales of its $2,495 printer, moving beyond the preorder stage and guaranteeing delivery in 10 days for U.S. customers.

Unlike 3D printers that create things from plastic strands, the Glowforge printer uses a laser to cut and engrave products, letting people use materials such as leather, paper, plastic, fabric, or cardboard.

Related to the 3D printing market, Chromatic 3D Materials this week it closed Series A funding, led by DSM Venturing. The company said it creates 3D printable polyurethanes and foams that “meet the strength and durability required for finished industrial manufactured goods.”

Chromatic 3D Materials said its technology opens up the industrial use of additive manufacturing for new markets and applications. DSM will also partner with the company to bring its offerings to companies in the apparel, tooling, automotive, and healthcare markets.

Robot creators spark investments

After a few weeks where the investment spotlight focused on AI companies or other software-based firms, it was nice to see hardware-based robotics companies receive funding.

Collaborative robots maker Ready Robotics announced it raised $15 million in funding for its systems. The company’s Taskmate robot combines a cobot arm on a mobile base, but more interestingly, the company uses a robots as a service (RaaS) model for customers.

In addition to the funding announcement, Baltimore-based Ready Robotics announced that it would open an office in Columbus, Ohio.

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Delivery robot maker Marble announced it closed a $10 million Series A funding round, with participation from Tencent, Lemnos, CrunchFund, and Maven. The San Francisco-based company provides food delivery robots. It added that they could be used for a broader range of applications, possibly within the supply chain space.

Segway Robotics this week closed its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for its $1,500 Loomo mobile sidekick robot, having raised $1.09 million in 50 days from 952 backers. The company said it will begin shipping Loomo, a combination of “a smart machine that toggles between a mini personal transporter and mobile robot sidekick” in late May, with continued shipping through the summer. The goal is to have every Loomo robot delivered by the end of June 2018, Segway said.

Bear Robotics, creators of the mobile table-bussing restaurant robot named “Penny”, received a $2 million investment from South Korean-based Woowa Brothers. Penny, which looks like a bowling pin, can autonomously deliver food from a restaurant kitchen to tables, and it can bring the dirty dishes back for cleaning.

Chinese truck-hailing company lands major funding

This week’s $1.9 billion investment into Chinese truck-hailing firm Manbang Group is impressive enough, but what could be cooler is what the company does with the funding. As reported by the China Money Network, Manbang Group will use part of the funding to “expand businesses in new energy and autonomous driving.”

The company currently connects truck drivers with shippers, and also includes an after-service platform to cover truck fuel, auto insurance, financing and other services. The investment by Softbank Vision Fund and China Reform Fund will also be used to expand the company’s offerings globally.

Wrapping up the rest of the week:

In addition to mobile robots, this week was another big one for automation investments. Check out some of these investments, or head over to the RBR Transactions Database to go through all of the transactions from the past year:

See you next week!