December 31, 2015      

As we continue to look back at 2015’s biggest robotics news, here’s a look at a baker’s dozen of the biggest robotics transactions to happen among robotics companies in the past year.

Mergers and acquisitions continued to be popular for quickly gaining capabilities or access to new markets, while venture capital helped more startups achieve the scale needed to produce robots to meet customer demand. More consolidation and partnerships are likely, as Google and Ford’s team-up for self-driving cars demonstrates.

Note that the 13 robotics transactions listed below don’t even include those for which figures weren’t disclosed.

13. Carbon3D Gets $100 Million From Google Ventures
Unlike conventional additive manufacturing, Carbon3D’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production system can produce 3D printed objects faster, as 3D printing continues to move from prototyping to production.

12. Market for Medical Robotics Hits Growth Spurt
Even though Auris Surgical Robotics raised $150 million, it wouldn’t say how it plans to spend its financing. Fortunately, enough other companies are merging and raising venture capital to paint a picture of a healthy market for assistive, surgical, and pharmaceutical robots.

11. China South Rail Buys U.K. Robot Maker
As part of Chinese companies’ ongoing efforts to gain intellectual property, train maker CSR spent $193 million on Specialist Machine Developments, which makes remotely operated vehicles. Both trains and undersea ROVs are relevant to the mining and energy industries.

10. Omron to Acquire Adept Technology for $200 Million
Adept Technology is the largest maker of industrial robots in the U.S., and even though manufacturing growth has slowed in the past year, component company Omron is looking ahead to the potential for even more industrial automation.

Pepper and corporate leaders

Masayoshi Son (C), CEO of SoftBank Corp., Terry Gou (R), chairman of Foxconn Technology, and Jack Ma (L), executive chairman of Alibaba Group, with SoftBank’s Pepper robot.

9. Alibaba, Foxconn Up the Ante on SoftBank’s Pepper Robot
Online retailer Alibaba and electronics supplier Foxconn invested $118 million each into Aldebaran, whose parent company SoftBank also owns Sprint Corp.

The three Asian giants are betting that Pepper, an “empathic” social robot, will continue to live up to the promise of 1,000 sales in the first minute of each of the past six months.

8. Omnicell Buys Automated Pharmacy Firm Aesynt for $275 Million
Dispensary technology companies merged to better serve the “entire continuum of care,” from hospitals through long-term care facilities. Aesynt has changed hands a few times, and Omnicell recently bought some Germany-based medicine management companies.

7. Orthopedics Firm Smith & Nephew Buys Blue Belt for $275 Million
Although robots have been helping surgeons with partial knee replacements, these two surgical robotics companies plan to enable full replacement procedures soon. Robotic-assisted drills promise less-invasive surgery, faster recovery, and lucrative service to the baby boomer generation.

6. Teradyne Buys Co-Robot Maker Universal Robots for $285 Million
U.S.-based testing equipment maker Teradyne bought Denmark-based Universal Robots as the collaborative robot market is expected to grow from $100 million at a rate of more than 50 percent per year.

5. Chinese Robotics Investors Buy Canada’s ESI for $300 Million
Engineering Services Inc. has been acquired by Shenzhen Bauzer Investment Group. ESI makes a variety of robots for healthcare, law enforcement, and manufacturing, and its purchase was one of several recent moves around actuators, industrial automation, and military technology.

4. Intuitive Beats Out 34 Bidders to Grab $430 Million DoD Contract
The five-year contract that Intuitive Surgical won over 34 other bidders shows that the U.S. federal government expects to rely increasingly on surgical robots such as the da Vinci system. However, Intuitive has experienced some legal difficulties, and the Defense Department doesn’t guarantee a simpler ordering process.

3. Toyota to Spend $1 Billion on Robotics, AI Research
While the Japanese automaker initially claimed that it was working on driver-assist technology rather than self-driving cars, peer pressure caused it to change its tune. Toyota also hired Gill Pratt, who had led the annual DARPA Robotics Challenge, to lead its Toyota Research Institute.

2. Canon Spends $3.2 Billion to Widen Focus to Robotics
To cope with declining demand for digital cameras, Canon is planning acquisitions around industrial automation, machine vision, and 3D photography. Japan’s government is encouraging such investments as it readies for the 2020 Olympic Games.

1. Dell to Invest $125 Billion in China for AI, Market Access
Dell Inc. signed onto China’s “China 4.0” strategy by spending billions on artificial intelligence research in return for coveted market access. Can it encourage local innovation, ride out international tensions, and serve China’s ever-growing market and industrial base?

What will 2016 bring? Will these massive investments in industrial automation, medical robotics, and AI pay off? When will self-driving vehicles really come to market? Keep reading Robotics Business Review, and check out our transactions log to find out!

Still More Noteworthy Robotics Transactions From 2015: