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Robotics Investments Weekly: Manufacturers Take Center Stage

Credit: Pixabay

March 30, 2018      

March is heading out like a lamb in the world of artificial intelligence and robotics investments. It’s relatively quiet, but we still saw investments in the industrial automation, supply chain, and manufacturing spaces. Yes, AI and self-driving car companies received more funds this week, too.

These robotics investments and more can be found in the RBR Transactions Database, which lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type. Let’s gear up and check out the latest transactions!

Speed-reducing gear maker raises funds to expand into China

Circular Wave Drive, a robotics company that produces compact, speed-reducing gears for robotics and applications, completed a $2 million seed investment round with a $900,000 investment led by Ikove Venture Partners. The company said it will use the new funding to invest in research and development, hire more employees, and grow internationally as it expands offices in China.

Dr. Yuanfang Zheng
Credit: Circular Wave Drive

The company’s speed-reduction technology was developed at the Ohio State University and Dr. Yuanfang Zheng, a professor in electrical engineering. Circular Wave Drive said its technology creates a “full product line of low-cost, compact, highly efficient speed-reducing gearing systems.”

Standard speed reducers need to be replaced once every two years, which can be costly to companies, Zheng said in a statement announcing the funding. The Circular Wave Drive technology provides lower cost and more durability than strain-wave gears, he added.

Food equipment manufacturer acquires Italian robotics systems maker

The Middleby Corp., which manufactures equipment in the commercial food service and food processing market, acquired Italian-based Ve.Ma.C., which manufactures handling, automation, and robotics systems in the protein food processing area. Terms of the deal were not announced.

The company said in a statement the acquisition would extend its capabilities around robotics and automation, giving it additional opportunities to integrate its existing food processing equipment.

Automating scientific lab work with robotics

Robots that can help automate experiments for life scientists is the main focus for Opentrons. The company this week raised $10 million in a seed funding round led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Y Combinator Continuity Fund, and Jeff Kindler.

The OT-2 robot and no-code Protocol Designer reportedly gives biologists the ability to “run an experiment with the click of a button.” With pre-programmed protocols and a library of verified protocols, the OT-2 system can help scientists with tedious and error-prone lab work involved in manual pipetting techniques.

Harold, take the wheel

Startup Scotty Labs announced a $6 million investment by Gradient Ventures, a Google-backed early-stage venture fund. The startup makes “teleoperations” software, which lets a “driver” seated in a call center or other location to take over the vehicle in more difficult situations – like if it gets stuck in mud or finds itself behind a truck.

The company said that instead of “removing humans from the driving experience entirely, we’re keeping the humans in, virtually.” Other investors in the startup include Social Capital, Horizons Ventures, and Hemi Ventures.

Navigating the streets of Japan

Recent robotics investments include Ascent Robotics, which is providing AI for self-driving cars in Japan.

Ascent Robotics plans to use its AI software to navigate Japanese and other Asian roads. Credit: Pixabay

Tokyo-based Ascent Robotics announced it raised about 1.1 billion yen ($10.3 million) in Series A funding. The company develops AI training software for autonomous vehicles. Funding was led by SBI Investment, with participation from other angel investors, including Bart Joseph Broadman.

The company utilizes real and simulated data for learning AI, claiming that learning efficiency is increased to more than 50 times when only using real data. While self-driving companies have tested their vehicles on U.S. roads, Ascent said it will focus on Japanese and Asian road environments, which are narrower. The company said it will set up new offices in Japan and hire additional researchers, with the goal of reaching Level 4 autonomy by 2020.

European accelerator targets robot companies

A newly formed accelerator, with money from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 framework, will help startups and other small companies within the robotics space to help develop new technologies. Backed by €8 million ($9.8 million) in funding, the Robot Union is planning to accept applications for its first round of funding for 20 firms. Companies selected will receive €223,000 ($274,780) in equity-free seed grants and also participate in a 6- to 12-month acceleration course.

The accelerator includes partners from 14 different organizations across Europe, including Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center, TU Delft in the Netherlands, PIAP in Poland, and the Danish Technological Institute.

Rounding up other robotics investments

We’ve sent our own robots to scour the internet to find some additional recent robotics investments, listed below:

See you next month!