April 14, 2016      

Some of the signs of the maturing robotics industry include more robotics investment, mergers and acquisitions, and support for the component technologies that will be part of robots and self-driving cars.

Grishin Robotics has raised a $100 million fund for investing in robotics hardware and software. The venture capital firm was founded in 2012, and its first fund was $25 million.

“People were skeptical of a robotics-only fund in 2012 when we launched,” said Dmitry Grishin, founder of Grishin Robotics and co-founder and CEO of Moscow-based Internet firm Mail.Ru Group.

Grishin funds Double Robotics

Telepresence provider Double Robotics is among the recipients of funding from Grishin.

The fund will support startups driven by the “six pillars of the Hardware Revolution — cheaper components, ubiquitous connectivity, smartphone penetration, 3D printing, disruption of [the] supply chain, and crowdfunding,” said the New York-based company. “By 2020, [the] total value of the markets driven by these changes is estimated to reach $1 trillion.”

Twelve companies have already received funding from Grishin Robotics, including RobotAppStore, Boston-based incubator Bolt, BB-8 toymaker Sphero, and telepresence robot maker Double Robotics Inc.

Grishin Robotics also said that it is expanding its focus from support of consumer-oriented companies in the U.S. to include business-to-business robotics applications and Europe. It is opening a London office.

The fund will allocate up to $10 million per company and is looking for investment opportunities in material handling and collaborative robots, artificial intelligence, and data analytics and the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

Intel Buys Yogitech for ‘functional security’

Speaking of IoT, Intel Corp. has bought Yogitech SpA, a startup developing “functional security” for robots and self-driving cars. Pisa, Italy-based Yogitech said its technology is important to developing confidence in the control over data collected by multiple sensors.

“The industry is now moving from automating data to inform better decisions to automating actions informed by real-time data,” said Ken Caviasca, vice president and general manager of platform engineering and development at Intel’s IoT Group. “You can see this evolution in the autonomous vehicle prototypes that nearly all have Intel inside.”

“By Intel’s own estimates, 30 percent of the IoT market segment will require functional safety by 2020,” he said.

Yogitech will become part of the IoT Group, since the chipmaker has an interest in providing processors for automated vehicles. Sales of PCs and laptops have been declining, so Intel and Qualcomm have been investing in robotics, aerial drones, wearables, and artificial intelligence.

Connecting the dots for robotics investors

Sensors and the intelligence to connect the data they gather to robot behavior are widely cited as causes for increased investor interest in collaborative robots, self-driving cars, and industrial automation.

Last year, mergers and acquisitions in the robotics sector reportedly totaled more than $2 billion, and a few funds have emerged to promote and take advantage of these converging technologies.

Horizon Robotics Inc., which is working on connecting hardware, software, cloud computing, and big data for AI, has received an unspecified amount of venture capital from Yuri Milner, founder of investment firm Digital Sky Technologies Ltd.

Kai Yu, who once led the Institute of Deep Learning at Chinese search engine company Baidu Inc., founded Beijing-based Horizon Robotics last year. Milner is also a co-founder of Mail.Ru Group.

Agile and Gaitech team up for ROS-based development

Agile Sensor Technologies Inc., which produces components for drones and unmanned vehicles, has partnered with Gaitech International Ltd., which makes robotics products based on the Robot Operating System (ROS).

St. Johns, Newfoundland-based Agile plans to work with Shanghai-based Gaitech on a “plug-and-play” platform to make robot development easier. Agile reportedly also received more than $1 million in funding.

Gaitech’s products are used in several well-known logistics robots, including Rethink Robotics Inc.‘s Baxter and Sawyer, Fetch Robotics Inc.‘s Fetch and Freight, and Clearpath Robotics Inc.‘s autonomous vehicles.

“We plan to invest locally and expand our sales and engineering teams,” said Agile CEO Brian Terry. “This supports our goal to accelerate sales of our motor control system and launch of our flight-stabilization system, smart camera, and patented sensor-aiming devices.”

“These devices will change the way companies develop their robots to include our highly reliable, fast, and dynamic components,” Terry added.

“We believe that the combination of Agile’s state-of-the-art [field-programmable gate array] technologies with our expertise in ROS will result in several exciting new products for the high-growth global robotics market,” said Jenssen Chang, Gaitech CEO.