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5. Pony.ai rides off with $729M
Toyota Motor Corp. participated in Pony.ai Inc.‘s $462 million round in February. Fremont, Calif.-based Pony.ai, which is working toward SAE Level 4 autonomy, also raised $267 million in Series C funding in November. The company is now valued at more than $5.3 billion.
“We will give full play to the technical and product advantages in vehicle design and manufacturing, V2X [vehicle-to-everything communications], to mobility as a service,” Pony.ai said. “We will engage in pre-installation mass production and business operations models while strengthening collaboration to accelerate the development and implementation of autonomous driving technology.”
4. Amazon buys Zoox for $1.2B
Amazon.com Inc. reportedly accelerated its investment in autonomous vehicles by buying Zoox Inc. for $1.2 billion in June. Amazon had previously funded companies such as Rivian and Aurora Innovation Inc.
Foster City, Calif.-based Zoox said it has been developing an autonomous ride-hailing vehicle from the ground up, plus an “end-to-end autonomy software stack.”
3. Alibaba acquires China Smart Logistics Network
One of the biggest reported transactions of 2020 was Alibaba Group Holding‘s acquisition of Fosun International’s 6.7% stake in China Smart Logistics Network, which does business as Cainiao. The June deal was worth about $1.3 billion, raising Cainiao’s valuation to $20 billion.
Cainiao provides autonomous mobile robots to warehouses to meet spikes in e-commerce demand around holidays such as Singles Day. Alibaba is a rival to Amazon and JD.com.
2. Xpeng Motors has $1B U.S. IPO
In August, Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co., also known as Xpeng, announced that it had increased its U.S. initial public offering to $1.5 billion. The Guanghzhou, China-based electric vehicle maker previously raised $500 million and said it plans to use the financing to expand research and development.
In November, Xpeng said it will be introducing autonomous hardware and software in its 2021 production models.
“Introducing lidar technology into production vehicles is a breakthrough in popularizing autonomous driving, and an endorsement of our in-house R&D process,” said He Xiaopeng, chairman and CEO of Xpeng.
1. Waymo picks up $3B in two 2020 deals
Self-driving car leader Waymo LLC had a good year, raising $2.25 billion in its first external funding round in March 2020. It then raised $750 million in May. After it and other companies paused in testing in March, Waymo has expanded its robotaxi service in Phoenix, Ariz., and is scaling up production.
There is a small herd of so-called unicorns chasing autonomous vehicles. In addition to Waymo and other businesses on this list, Cruise LLC raised $1.15 billion and Uber closed on $1 billion in 2019 before selling its Advanced Technologies Group to Aurora Innovation. Waymo and Nuro were both recognized with 2020 RBR50 innovation awards.
Waymo has also partnered with Daimler on Level 4 self-driving trucks, run the Waymo Open Dataset Challenge, and logged 6.1 million miles in Arizona with no accidents that resulted in injuries.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company claimed the lowest rate of disengagements, or safety driver interventions, in 2019. While there is debate over whether that is a good metric for self-driving car progress, that number and Waymo’s funding rounds leave no doubt about its goals.
Several robotics developers have complained that all the funding flowing to driverless vehicle research has stiffened competition for qualified developers for other areas of robotics, but the advancements in perception, navigation, and cognition could help them.
Three adjacent technology transactions in 2020
In addition to the fundings and acquisitions that The Robot Report reported in 2020, there were a number of other noteworthy transactions. For instance, NVIDIA Corp. acquired processor maker Arm Ltd. from SoftBank Group for $40 billion.
NVIDIA‘s graphics processing units (GPUs) already power gaming computers, robots, and self-driving cars. SoftBank has been a major technology investor but has had some financial difficulties lately.
Arm could help NVIDIA in its pursuit of artificial intelligence dominance. Santa Clara, Calif.-based NVIDIA said it plans to build an AI supercomputer and a research and development center near Arm’s headquarters in Cambridge, U.K.
“In the years ahead, trillions of computers running AI will create a new Internet of things that is thousands of times larger than today’s Internet of people,” stated Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA. “Uniting NVIDIA’s AI computing capabilities with the vast ecosystem of Arm’s CPU, we can advance computing from the cloud, smartphones, PCs, self-driving cars, and robotics to edge IoT and expand AI computing to every corner of the globe.”
Another big deal of the past year was Medtronic PLC’s $7.3 billion notes offering. The company, which has offices in Minneapolis and Dublin, Ireland, is a major medical device producer, and robot-assisted surgery is only part of its portfolio.
In May, the company announced new CEO Geoff Martha. It has also made several AI-related acquisitions and is working on bringing the Hugo surgical robot to market.
In addition, Medtronic is collaborating with Titan Medical Inc. on development of the Sport single-port surgical robot. Both hope to challenge Intuitive Surgical Inc.’s da Vinci system.
The third multibillion-dollar deal of the past year in robot-adjacent technologies was Stryker Corp.‘s $2.3 billion offering for Wright Medical Group NV. The acquisition was announced in May and completed in November.
As with Medtronic, Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Stryker makes more than surgical robots, but Wright’s software expertise are expected to complement Stryker’s offerings. Wright has offices in Memphis, Tenn., and Staines-upon-Thames, U.K.
“This acquisition enhances our global market position in trauma and extremities, providing significant opportunities to advance innovation and reach more patients,” said Kevin Lobo, chairman and CEO of Stryker.
To obtain approval from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Stryker divested some assets to Colfax. Last year, Stryker also acquired Mobius Imaging and Cardan Robotics for $500 million and Orthospace for $220 million.
Those 2019 healthcare deals were surpassed only by Smith & Nephew’s $660 million purchase of Osiris Therapeutics, Siemens’ $1.1 billion acquisition of Corindus Vascular Robotics, and Johnson & Johnson’s $3.4 billion acquisition of Auris Health.
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