In December 2019, The Robot Report, sibling site to Robotics Business Review, recorded a total of $1.9 billion in robotics transactions. Although funding continued to flow to autonomous vehicle companies, the largest investments at year’s end went toward robotics for outer space, warehouses, and AI for healthcare.
By comparison, The Robot Report tracked $4.7 billion in transactions in November 2019, and $652.7 million in December 2018. There were 25 investments in December 2019, compared with 28 the previous month and 17 the year earlier. See also our roundup of the 20 largest investments in the first half of 2019.
Despite concerns about a slowdown in robotics because of a dip in automotive manufacturing and trade conflicts, many analysts are bullish on the technology’s prospects for 2020. IDC predicts that global spending on robots will increase 17.1% from 2019 to $128.7 billion this year. Industrial automation, control software, and drones will be areas of strong growth, said the research firm.
The table below lists investments in millions of U.S. dollars, where amounts were publicly available:
Robotics investments, December 2019
|Company||Amt. (M$)||Transaction||Lead investor, partner||Date||Technology|
|Abilitech Medical Inc.||7.4||investment||Dec. 3||upper arm mobility|
|Accel Robotics||30||Series A||SoftBank Group||Dec. 3||computer vision, AI|
|Aibee||74||Series A1||ClearVue Partners, Singularity Power Capital||Dec. 6||AI|
|Apex.AI Inc.||investment||Volvo Group Venture Capital||Dec. 5||autonomous software|
|Arbe||32||Series B||Catalyst CEL Fund||Dec. 16||4D imaging radar chipset|
|AutoPets||31||equity financing||Pondera Holdings||Dec. 4||robotic litterbox|
|Blue Ocean Robotics||12||investment||C.C. Nielsen family||Dec. 5||disinfection robot|
|Bluespace.AI Inc.||3.5||seed||Fusion Fund||Dec. 13||autonomous vehicles|
|Caresyntax||45.6||investment||Whiz Partners||Dec. 12||surgical AI|
|Dusty Robotics||5||seed||NextGen Venture Partners||Dec. 16||construction robotics|
|EHang||40||IPO||Dec. 12||flying taxis|
|Fleet Cleaner BV||stake sale||Rotterdam Port Fund||Dec. 13||hull cleaning robot|
|FlytBase||seed||Dec. 20||drone software|
|Gecko Robotics||40||Series B||Drive Capital||Dec. 16||industrial inspection|
|Graviti||10||pre-Series A||Sequoia Capital||Dec. 6||AI|
|Innovative Mechatronic Systems BV||investment||ATV, InnovationQuarter, ABB Group||Dec. 19||gearbox|
|Living Robot||0.923||stock sale||AVY Precision Technology||Dec. 11||AI, companion robot|
|May Mobility Inc.||50||Series B||Toyota Motor Corp.||Dec. 4||autonomous shuttles|
|Ocado Group PLC||657.3||bond sale||Dec. 2||AS/RS|
|OnRobot A/S||27.4||investment||Growth Fund, EIB||Dec. 19||cobot grippers|
|PrecisionHawk Inc.||32||investment||Millennium Technology Venture Partners||Dec. 11||drone inspection|
|Rovenso SA||2.34||seed||Nivalis Group, SOSV||Dec. 11||mobile security robot|
|Seoul Robotics Ltd.||5||investment||KB investment, KDB Capital||Dec. 18||lidar|
|StradVision||27||Series B||Posco Capital||Dec. 19||machine vision|
|Teraki GmbH||11||Series A||Horizons Ventures||Dec. 18||AI, edge processing software|
|Terradepth||8||investment||Seagate Technology||Dec. 16||deep-ocean robots|
In December 2019, The Robot Report found nine mergers and acquisitions involving multiple industries. In comparison, there were five in November 2019. See also our list of 10 notable mergers and acquisitions in the first half of 2019, as well as the biggest deals of the year. Here are the past month’s acquisitions:
Robotics mergers and acquisitions, December 2019:
|Company||Amt. (M$)||Acquirer, partner||Date||Technology|
|Anki||Digital Dream Labs||Dec. 26||development platform|
|Asteria Aerospace Pvt. Ltd.||3.3||Reliance Strategic Ventures Ltd.||Dec. 13||drones as a service|
|Latent Logic||Waymo||Dec. 12||driverless simulation software|
|MDA||765.23||Northern Private Capital||Dec. 30||satellite robotics|
|Miraisens Inc.||Murata Manufacturing Co.||Dec. 25||haptics|
|MTM Robotics||Airbus SE||Dec. 12||aerospace manufacturing|
|Roboteq Inc.||Nidec Corp.||Dec. 4||motors|
|TAWI Group||Piab Group||Dec. 19||surgical robotics|
|Verb Surgical Inc.||Johnson & Johnson Innovation||Dec. 20||surgical robotics|
Logistics and transportation continue to climb
The largest single fundraising of December 2019 was Ocado Group PLC’s $657.3 million bond sale. The British grocery chain has been developing mobile and humanoid robots for licensees and supply chains worldwide. It was one of the most funded companies of 2018.
Although Ocado suffered a setback with a fire in Hampshire, U.K., that caused more than $130 million in damages in February, the company remains committed to its automated storage and retrieval systems.
Autonomous vehicles closed out another strong year of investment. Toyota Motor Corp. invested in the $50 million Series B round for self-driving shuttle developer May Mobility.
EHang took another step toward flying cars with a $40 million initial public offering, and it conducted its first autonomous test flight in the U.S. last week. (See video above.)
Back on the ground, Arbe Robotics Ltd. raised $32 million in Series B funding for a 4D imaging lidar chipset. Similarly, Seoul Robotics Ltd. obtained $5 million for its SENSR platform, which uses artificial intelligence for 3D lidar.
Also in December 2019, StradVision received $27 million in Series B funding for machine vision systems directed both outside and inside the vehicle for autonomous and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS).
Teraki GmbH had a Series A round of $11 million for AI processing at the edge for automotive and Internet of Things applications. Bluespace.ai Inc. raised $3.5 million in seed funding for its software, which it s developing for mass-transit fleets of autonomous vehicles.
Volvo invested in Apex.AI, whose Apex.OS is a version of the Robot Operating System that is intended to be optimized for “automotive-grade” safety and reliability. No amount was announced.
In acquisitions, Piab Group bought TAWI Group, which makes “smart lifting solutions,” for an unspecified amount. Waymo rolled up Latent Logic, which is creating models of human behavior on the road for self-driving car safety.
Not all the news is about successful fundings, however. Kiwibot saiid it was ending food deliveries for now as it refines its design, but CEO Felipe Chávez denied that mobile robot startup was shutting down.
Also, autonomous truck company Starsky Robotics said it is seeking a purchaser. The company had raised $16.5 million in March 2018.
While it is not a transaction per se, Hyundai Heavy Industries Group spun off its Hyundai Robotics unit. The Korean automaker said it expects the business unit to earn $853 million in sales by the end of 2024.
Drones, construction robots raise funds in December 2019
Northern Private Capital bought MDA, formerly known as MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates, for CAD 1 billion ($765 million U.S.). Maxar’s robotics unit built the Canadarm that was used on the space shuttle to build the International Space Station.
Other aerospace robotics acquisitions in December 2019 include Airbus SE’s purchase of MTM Robotics for automated aircraft manufacturing. Reliance Strategic Ventures Ltd.’s bought a $3.3 million stake in Asteria Aerospace Pvt. Ltd., which offers drone inspections as a service.
Gecko Robotics, which is developing wall-climbing robots for industrial inspections, raised $40 million in Series B funding.
PrecisionHawk Inc. raised $32 million for its drones-as-a-service offering. Moving from the skies to unmanned systems under the sea, Terradepth raised $8 million for a fleet of “autonomous hybrid vehicles.”
A seed round of $5 million will help Dusty Robotics commercialize its FieldPrinter robot, which autonomously lays out plans directly onto floors of construction job sites. FlytBase, which has offices in Pune, India, and Silicon Valley, raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding as it develops commercial drone automation software.
Healthcare robotics sews up more deals
Caresyntax’s $45.6 million fundraising was the largest transaction in healthcare robotics in December 2019. The company is developing AI and automation for operating rooms, and it also acquired operations and cost analytics company Syus last month.
The C.C. Nielsen family, prominent Danish investors, put $12 million into Blue Ocean Robotics, whose UVD disinfection robot has received awards and which also acquired the Beam telepresence robot from Suitable Technologies Inc. in August.
Abilitech Medical Inc. raised $7.4 million for its upper-arm mobility device.
Last but not least, Johnson & Johnson Innovation bought out Verily Life Sciences’ stake in Verb Surgical for an unspecified amount. Verb was originally a joint venture between J&J and the Alphabet Inc. unit, and it said it is “on track” to develop smaller, smarter, and more affordable surgical robotics.
Consumer and service robot transactions in December 2019
The Robot Report has been closely following the failure and possible resurrection of Anki, which shut down in April. The company’s Cozmo consumer robot was intended as an educational tool and platform for AI developers. Last month, Digital Dream Labs acquired Anki’s assets, largely for marketing reasons, but many of Anki’s 6.5 million customers still hope for ongoing support.
AVY Precision Technology spent $923,000 to acquire a 5.9% stake in social robot maker Living Robot.
Rovenso SA raised $2.34 million in seed funding for mobile robots that can be used for security and anomaly detection.
Rotterdam Port Fund bought a stake in Fleet Cleaner BV, which offers a robot to clean algae off of ship hulls. In a different kind of cleaning, AutoPets raised $31 million in equity financing for its robotic litterbox.
AI, components deals close out the year
In December 2019, Aibee raised $74 million in Series A financing. It offers AI for computer vision, natural language processing, and robotics for the retail and tourism industries.
Graviti raised about $10 million in pre-Series A funding from Sequoia Capital and other companies for its unstructured data and AI service for autonomous drive, robotics, and other applications.
SoftBank Group led the $30 million Series A round for Accel Robotics, which is working on AI and computer vision for retail.
OnRobot A/S, which makes grippers for collaborative robot arms, received $27.4 million. Innovative Mechatronic Systems B.V., or IMSystems, got unspecified funding from ABB Technology Ventures as it develops its Archimedes Drive.
Murata Manufacturing Co. acquired Maraisens, which is developing “3D haptics” technology. It could be used in remote treatment of patients and teleoperation of robotics.
Motor maker Nidec Corp. completed its acquisition of Roboteq Inc., which makes ultra-low voltage drives.
Editors’ note: What defines robotics investments? The answer to this simple question is central in any attempt to quantify them with some degree of rigor. To make investment analyses consistent, repeatable, and valuable, it is critical to wring out as much subjectivity as possible during the evaluation process. This begins with a definition of terms and a description of assumptions.
Investors and investing
Investment should come from venture capital firms, corporate investment groups, angel investors, and other sources. Friends-and-family investments, government/non-governmental agency grants, and crowd-sourced funding are excluded.
Robotics and intelligent systems companies
Robotics companies must generate or expect to generate revenue from the production of robotics products (that sense, analyze, and act in the physical world), hardware or software subsystems and enabling technologies for robots, or services supporting robotics devices. For this analysis, autonomous vehicles (including technologies that support autonomous driving) and drones are considered robots, while 3D printers, CNC systems, and various types of “hard” automation are not.
Companies that are “robotic” in name only, or use the term “robot” to describe products and services that that do not enable or support devices acting in the physical world, are excluded. For example, this includes “software robots” and robotic process automation. Many firms have multiple locations in different countries. Company locations given in the analysis are based on the publicly listed headquarters in legal documents, press releases, etc.
Funding information is collected from a number of public and private sources. These include press releases from corporations and investment groups, corporate briefings, industry analysts such as Tracxn, and association and industry publications. In addition, information comes from sessions at conferences and seminars, as well as during private interviews with industry representatives, investors, and others. Unverifiable investments are excluded.