The final week of August saw a flurry of funding announcements across the robotics and artificial intelligence landscape, led by gripper firms offering different ways for robot arms to grab materials. In addition, many companies developing self-driving car technologies received investments, and the military continued its spending spree with unmanned aircraft development.
Today, we’re highlighting 21 robotics transactions from recent weeks, but you can always track more investments in the RBR Transactions Database. Our regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type. If you’re an RBR Insider, don’t forget to check out the Q2 Transactions Report, which showcases and analyzes major investment trends for the past three months. It’s free for subscribers to the Insider program.
Grab that dough! Gripper firms earn investments, build partnerships
OnRobot, already in the midst of integrating three companies into one, had a busy week. First, it received an undisclosed investment from global growth equity firm Summit Partners. The investment included additional funding from existing investor The Danish Growth Fund. The company said the funding will help support its continued international growth and expansion of its portfolio.
That portfolio expansion happened a few days later, when the company acquired Purple Robotics, developer of a dual vacuum gripper for collaborative robot arms, for an undisclosed amount. Purple Robotics, which was founded by Lasse Kieffer, Henrik Tillitz Hansen, and Peter Nadolny Madsen, will now work with OnRobot’s existing R&D department at the gripper firm’s headquarters in Odense, Denmark.
Enrico Krog Iverson, OnRobot’s CEO, said the company looks forward to adding Purple Robotics’ developers to his company and offering its vacuum gripper.
Earlier this year, On Robot (with the space), Perception Robotics, and OptoForce merged to become OnRobot (without the space). The joint company’s portfolio now includes a range of end-of-arm tooling options, including electric grippers, force-moment sensors, gecko-style grippers, and tactile sensors.
“It must be easily conceivable to automate even small production batches,” Iversen said. “Otherwise, robot technology is not a good investment. This is why we hand-pick the best and most user-friendly robot products and integrate them in OnRobot.”
The company said it will show the Vacuum Gripper at next month’s IMTS event in Chicago.
Another innovative gripper firm, Soft Robotics, announced a new developer’s kit that could integrate with Universal Robots collaborative arms. The company’s SRDK-UR+ is a plug-and-play customizable gripper system specifically designed for UR arms, with the ability to handle “unstructured tasks and objects of varying size, shape, and weight.”
Soft Robotics said users can “quickly prototype, test, and validate an infinite number of applications,” including machine tending, high-speed packaging, pick-and-place, assembly, and CNC machine automation.
Military unmanned systems spending spree continues
The U.S. military continues to invest in projects around autonomous systems and unmanned aircraft. Boeing was the big winner of an $805 million contract to build four MQ-25A Stingray aircraft, a carrier-based drone.
Under terms of the contract, Boeing will “provide the design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery, and support” of the aircraft, including integrating them into the carrier air wing, the Navy said. The project is expected to be completed by August 2024.
Other recent unmanned systems contracts include:
- Boeing’s Insitu division earned $55.4 million to build unmanned aircraft systems for the government of Canada.
- General Atomics won a $123 million contract to build drones for France, and a $11.1 million contract to support the Gray Eagle aircraft system.
- QinetiQ North America earned a $44 million contract from the U.S. Army to help develop a semi-autonomous mine-removal vehicle.
Commercial investments in self-driving cars, aerial vehicles
Beyond the military, commercial enterprises also continued their investments in vehicles that can operate without human drivers or pilots. Toyota made a significant investment in Uber, announcing it would invest $500 million in the ride-hailing company to continue to develop self-driving cars. While Uber has been scaling back its internal in-house self-driving initiatives, as well as its self-driving trucking projects, the new investment will likely spur joint development between Toyota and Uber.
Startups developing autonomous vehicle technologies will likely help these larger companies in their self-driving efforts. Munich, Germany-based Blickfield increased its seed funding to $10 million, helping the company continue to develop its lidar technology.
Ventech China completed a “multi-million dollar angel round financing” in China’s Surfing Tech, which is developing autonomous driving data solutions and other AI technologies.
Beijing-based Yihang.AI announced raising $32 million in a Series B round of funding, to further develop its Level 2.5 autonomous driving function, expected to be launched in June 2019.
Moving from the ground to the air, there were two interesting developments in the aerial vehicle space. SkyRyse announced the launch of its “technology-enabled air mobility company,” along with $25 million in seed-round and Series A funding. The company’s goal is to “deliver fast, safe and affordable air transportation that is unbound by today’s transportation infrastructure.”
SkyRyse is developing an advanced pilot-assist system that combines AI, a flight perception suite, and decision-making algorithms that work with any FAA-approved vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
The company plans to begin operations in January 2019 in Tracy, Calif., where it will provide support to the city’s emergency response units, including law enforcement, search-and-rescue missions, and firefighters, it said in a press statement. The SkyRyse Emergency Response service will be made available to state and local governments to get first responders to the scene in minutes regardless of their location.
“Because the stakes are highest in emergency response situations when minutes can mean the difference between life and death, we’re launching SkyRyse Emergency Response to support governments and municipalities first,” said Mark Groden, CEO and co-founder of SkyRyse. The company said it would also explore other options for people to get around cities in the future.
Another municipality is investigating how to utilize aerial vehicles for traffic-related situations. The city of Wilson, N.C., has been using a $10,000 grant from US Ignite to send out drones to capture video footage of accident scenes. A live-streaming app would allow subject matter experts to collaborate without having to get together on scene, thanks to the footage provided by the drone. The project is currently being field-tested, with full deployment expected by early 2019.
Supply chain robotics space remains hot
Vecna Robotics this week filed an SEC Form D that indicated a $13.5 million equity sale. Xconomy reported that one of the board directors listed on the SEC form is Nick Solaro, a partner at Drive Capital. Robotics Business Review reached out to Vecna for comment on the investment, but the company has not yet responded.
Vecna, a member of the RBR50 2018 list of leading robotics companies, has been around for 20 years. It provides mobile robots for the supply chain and warehousing markets. Logistics robots have seen a lot of interest lately, including investments for Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems, Fetch Robotics, and others.
Another RBR50 company, GreyOrange, this week announced it would expand in the U.S., creating a new U.S. headquarters in Atlanta and developing a research and development center in Boston.
Construction robots maker Dusty Robotics also recently raised $2.2 million in seed funding for development of its construction automation technology.
AR funding and consumer space heats up
There’s nothing like an Apple investment to spur a whole bunch of rumors and generate heat for a market segment, so it looks like AR and/or VR is about to get hot again. Apple confirmed this week it purchased Colorado-based Akonia Holographics, a startup that develops specialized lenses used in augmented reality headsets. This, of course, leads to lots of media articles speculating that Apple would soon be developing its own AR headset. We won’t add to the speculation, other than mentioning that we’d run out immediately and purchase one (just kidding!).
In other AR investments, China Walden Venture Investments joined other investors in a $12 million funding round for Avegant, which is developing display technologies for AR headsets.
Robotics kit maker MakeBlock also is set to expand its operations, following a $44 million Series C investment.
Artificial intelligence investments vary
It wouldn’t be a weekly investments wrapup without some funding in the AI space, and this week is no different:
- Intel Capital has led an undisclosed investment in Chinese AI startup ICE Tech, which focuses on developing AI algorithms and chips, along with intelligent cloud services.
- London startup Phrasee announced raising $4 million in Series A funding to expand its AI-powered copywriting and marketing service to the U.S.
- TransPerfect completed the acquisition of Barcelona-based Tauyou for its AI language-translation services.
Foxconn among investors in new Wisconsin venture fund
Things are getting hot in Wisconsin – not only did the Green Bay Packers sign QB Aaron Rodgers to a long-term deal, a new $100 million venture fund was created to help develop technology startups in the state. The Wisconn Valley Venture Fund is a new partnership between Aurora Health, Foxconn Technology Group, Johnson Controls, and Northwestern Mutual.
The early-stage venture fund will invest in companies providing “transformative and interdisciplinary innovations in health care, technology, manufacturing, and financial services.” Each of the four companies have contributed $25 million to the fund.
From gripper firms to football, fall must be coming — see you next week!