Robot Investments Weekly: Drones and IoT Deals on the Rise

February 17, 2018      

While spring still seems far away in the U.S., several automation businesses made the matchmaking plunge. Perhaps it’s Mardi Gras or Valentine’s Day exuberance, but several mergers and acquisitions led the past week’s robotics, AI, drone and IoT matches!

For more information, visit our Transactions Database to stay up to date on the key partnerships, investments, public offerings, and government funding developments. Search, sort, and print by transaction type, date, or industry.

Drone and IoT partnerships

Kicking off recent acquisitions and drone and IoT matches, Arrow Electronics Inc. bought eInfochips for an unspecified amount. San Jose, Calif.-based eInfochips has 1,500 employees in the U.S., India, and Europe. The company designs and delivers chips for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and serves the aerospace, consumer and retail, healthcare, and industrial automation markets.

“Upon close of this acquisition, eInfochips advances our IoT strategy, expands our offerings, and moves us into the rapidly growing IoT services market,” stated Michael J. Long, chairman, president, and CEO of Arrow in Centennial, Mo. “As a result, we will deliver complex and connected IoT solutions and technologies across multiple cloud platforms.”

Google announced that it’s buying Xively from LogMeIn Inc. Boston-based Xively will add its device management, monitoring capabilities to Google Cloud’s “effort to provide a fully managed IoT service that easily and securely connects, manages, and ingests data from globally dispersed devices.”

Google’s former Boston Dynamics unit got a lot of media attention for the latest video of its SpotMini robot, which can now open doors in addition to walking. However, Google has gotten out of the walking robot business and is focusing on its strengths in data for IoT.

In precision agriculture, agribusiness conglomerate Syngenta purchased FarmShots Inc. Raleigh, N.C.-based FarmShots’ cloud-based software analyzes drone and satellite imagery to do things such as optimizing and reducing fertilizer and pesticide use. Terms were not disclosed.

Also on the drone side of drones and IoT, The Toro Co. became a minority equity partner in GreenSight Agronomics. Boston-based GreenSight is a leader in drone mapping for golf courses and farms.

PrecisionHawk Inc. bought two aerial drone companies, and AirVid, to create a network of more than 15,000 commercially licensed drone pilots. It will combine its existing drone certification program to continue serving the agriculture, construction, and energy industries, as well as government use.

Los Angeles-based DroneBase raised $12 million in Series B funding for its enterprise drone services. DJI, Union Square Ventures, and Upfront Ventues led the round.

“DroneBase recently completed over 100,000 commercial drone missions for enterprise clients across various industries such as real estate, insurance, telecommunications, construction, and media,” said the company in a statement. “The company has the largest, most engaged and skilled drone pilot network, having grown it 10x year over year for the past two years. Through this network, DroneBase is able to turn around a client mission in less than 48 hours anywhere in the United States, since its pilots are active in all 50 states and over 60 countries.

Acquisition to promote STEM training

Speaking of training, South African firm Onsite Group this week acquired the educational division of VJ Robotics. Onsite wants to facilitate the integration of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) training into schools worldwide.

“At the moment, a lot of schools know that they have to take on robotics, but the ‘how to’ is missing,” said Lulu Burger, Onsite director of education. “There are so many platforms and apps out there already, but none of these are scaffolded to accommodate different skill levels and ages.”

“Onsite and VJ Robotics offers a complete solution for students from grades 4 to 12, which can be run as an extramural robotics club or activities that can form part of the ‘computer’ lessons,” she added. “We have tutors on standby, even though a lot of the learning happens through our online platform, whereby students can work according to their own pace and ability.”

Boeing’s HorizonX Ventures wing invested in the Series B round for Singularity University. It will be providing experts to the digital education provider, which teaches individuals and organizations about emerging technologies such as AI and robotics.

Mirae marries Global X as ETFs grow fast

The biggest marriage of the past week was Mirae Asset Global Investments‘ acquisition of New York-based Global X Management Co., whose exchange-traded fund includes an automation theme. The investment firms have a total of $30 billion in assets under management as of last month.

Global X’s BOTZ fund reportedly got more than $650 million in investments in January, showing the level of interest in funding for robotics, even though the technology is diffused across multiple vertical industries.

“This merger is a landmark event for the Mirae Asset Global ETF business development,” said Taeyong Lee, president and global head of ETFs at Mirae Asset. “With Global X on board, we are now connecting one of the most successful U.S. ETF firms to a prominent Asian-based global ETF manager, creating a powerful ETF platform.”

Other ETFs serving the robotics industry include the Robo Global Robotics & Automation ETF (ROBO), which has more than $1.5 billion under management, and the British Robotics Seed Fund or BritBots (BRSF), which is based in the U.K.

Elsewhere in finance, Micronotes Inc. raised $3 million for its cloud-based, AI-enabled marketing automation platform. It uses machine learning to conduct interviews for bank cross-selling and customer-loyalty efforts.

Industrial automation gets funding

Last week wasn’t all mergers and acquisitions, with other transactions around manufacturing and supply chain automation.

The U.S. Department of Energy funded 24 advanced manufacturing projects with $35 million. The projects are conducting research and development in new materials, processes, and tools.

InVia Robotics closed a Series A round of $9 million for its robotics as a service (RaaS) offering in warehouses. The round was led by Upfront Ventures and Embark Ventures.

Meanwhile, Hillhouse Capital and Sequoia led a $2.5 billion investment in JD Logistics Inc. Waukesha, Wisc.-based JD Logistics is a unit of China-based e-commerce company and said it plans to use the funding to expand into automation, drones, and robotics.

Israel-based CommonSense Robotics raised $20 million to expand its global operations.

The company said its combination of robotics and AI “enables retailers to shorten the grocery supply chain by transforming underutilized urban retail space into centers where robots will efficiently store, sort and process inventory,” according to Reuters. “This allows retailers to keep their inventory close to customers, not in hangars far removed from cities.”

The week’s only failure was the shutdown of iDAvatars, whose voice assistant was intended for the manufacturing and healthcare industry. The Mequon, Wis.-based company is seeking a buyer.

Service robotics startups get support

In addition to the agricultural drone and IoT transactions above, Berlin-based urban farming business Infarm raised $25 million in Series A funding, led by Balderton Capital. Vertical and indoor farming involves a high degree of automation and also promises to shorten grocery supply chains and reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Acacia Research Corp. invested $10 million in Series B funding for Miso Robotics, whose “Flippy” burger-flipping robot will be rolling out to restaurants in California and worldwide in the next year. Acacia also took a loss last quarter on its investment in AI company Veritone Inc.

BioXcel Therapeutics Inc. in Branford, Conn., has set an initial public offering goal of $69 million for its AI drug discovery technology. Canaccord Genuity Inc. is lead manager, with Barclays Capital Inc., BMO Capital Markets Corp, and UBS Securities LLC also involved.