As summer winds down, the number of reported transactions in robotics, autonomous vehicles, drones, and artificial intelligence increased, even as the total value dipped from the previous month’s big deals. The Robot Report tracked nearly 50 automation transactions, worth more than $2 billion, in August 2019.
In comparison, automation deals worth $10.1 billion occurred in July, and $1.1 billion in June 2019. The Robot Report recorded $925.33 million in investments for August 2018. There were 37 investments this past month, compared with 22 the previous month, 42 in June, and 29 a year ago. See also our roundup of the 20 largest investments in the first half of this year.
Aerial drones, AI and software, and autonomous vehicle startups did well in August 2019, followed by automation transactions in manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics. Service robotics, including robots for food handling, cleaning, and security, also received funding.
The table below lists investments in millions of U.S. dollars where figures were available.
|Company||Amt. (M$)||Transaction||Lead investor, partner||Date||Technology|
|Advanced Farm Technologies||7.5||Series A||Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley||Aug. 27, 2019||strawberry harvester|
|Aerones||2.9||seed||InnoEnergy||Aug. 5, 2019||heavy-lift drones|
|Airspace Link Ltd.||0.35||angel||Aug. 23, 2019||drone management|
|Augmented Pixels Inc.||0.3||seed||Aug. 30, 2019||AR for drone, robot navigation|
|Bear Robotics Inc.||10.2||equity sale||Aug. 15, 2019||restaurant robots|
|Bestmile SA||16.5||Series B||Blue Lagoon Capital, Translink Capital||Aug. 28, 2019||autonomous fleet management|
|Clobotics||22||pre-Series B||CDIB Capital, CMC Capital Group||Aug. 8, 2019||vision for drone inspection|
|Cobalt Robotics||35||Series B||Coatue||Aug. 14, 2019||security, RaaS|
|Commsignia Inc.||11||investment||Karma Ventures, Day One Capital||Aug. 15, 2019||connected vehicles|
|CynLr||0.78||seed||Speciale Invest, Arali Ventures, GrowX Ventures, CIIE Initiatives||Aug. 6, 2019||machine vision|
|DroneShield Ltd.||6.5||post-IPO equity||Aug. 6, 2019||drone defense|
|Elite Technology||14||Series B||Shenzhen Guozhong Venture Capital Management||Aug. 20, 2019||collaborative robot|
|Emotix||7.5||Series A||Chiratae Ventures||Aug. 13, 2019||Miko social robot|
|GelSight Inc.||6.1||stock sale||Aug. 9, 2019||sensors|
|GITAI||4.1||investment||Spiral Ventures||Aug. 21, 2019||space robot|
|Harvest Croo LLC||0.5||investment||Aug. 19, 2019||strawberry harvesting|
|i-Kingtec||Series A||BlueRun Venture||Aug. 20, 2019||drone inspection|
|iotaMotion Inc.||2.52||seed||Aug. 28, 2019||surgical robots|
|Left Hand Robotics||3.6||investment||Catapult Ventures||Aug. 28, 2019||field robotics|
|Lucid Drone Technologies Inc.||150||seed||Y Combinator||Aug. 20, 2019||drone cleaning|
|Mars Auto||0.15||seed||Y Combinator||Aug. 19, 2019||autonomous trucks|
|Ono Food Co.||investment||Michael Dempsey||Aug. 15, 2019||robotic food truck|
|PlusAI Inc.||200||Series B||Aug. 21, 2019||self-driving trucks|
|RailPod Inc.||8.4||equity sale||Aug. 8, 2019||rail inspection|
|Re-Gen Robotics||1.2||investment||Aug. 6, 2019||tank-cleaning robot|
|RT Corp.||4.69||investment||Mirai Creation Fund II||Aug. 23, 2019||food-handling robots|
|Scale AI Inc.||100||Series C||Founders Fund||Aug. 5, 2019||AI annotation|
|Starship Technologies Inc.||40||Series A||Morpheus Ventures||Aug. 20, 2019||robot deliveries|
|Shield AI||22.2||Series B||Aug. 14, 2019||security drones|
|Swoop Aero||seed||Tempus Partners, Right Click Capital||Aug. 23, 2019||drone delivery|
|Tier IV Inc.||4||Series A||Quanta Computer||Aug. 19, 2019||self-driving software|
|Titan Medical Inc.||3||share sale||Aspire Capital Fund LLC||Aug. 29, 2019||surgical robots|
|TriEye||2||investment||Porsche||Aug. 22, 2019||vehicle vision enhancement|
|TuSimple||minority stake||UPS Ventures||Aug. 15, 2019||autonomous trucks|
|WiBotic Inc.||6.1||investment||Aug. 20, 2019||wireless charging|
|XYZ Robotics||8||Series A||Gaorong Capital, Morningside Venture Capital||Aug. 16, 2019||putwall sorting|
|Zoetic AI||investment||BabyTree||Aug. 29, 2019||companion robot|
Last month’s acquisitions also covered a wide range of applications, from surgical robots to robotic deliveries. Corindus Vascular Robotics, which is working on the CorPath surgical system (see video above), was the biggest acquisition and automation transaction of the month. The Robot Report has also compiled a list of 10 notable mergers and acquisitions in the first half of 2019.
|Company||Amt. (M$)||Partner, acquirer||Date||Technology|
|Carl Cloos Welding Technology GmbH||216.44||Nanjing Estun Automation Co.||Aug. 27, 2019||industrial automation|
|Corindus Vascular Robotics Inc.||1100||Siemens Medical Solutions||Aug. 8, 2019||surgical robots|
|Formation||Formant||Aug. 5, 2019||robot fleet management|
|littleBits||Sphero Inc.||Aug. 23, 2019||educational kits|
|Olympus Controls Corp.||Applied Industrial Technologies||Aug. 14, 2019||motion control, machine vision|
|Scotty Labs Inc.||DoorDash Inc.||Aug. 20, 2019||robot deliveries|
Surgical robots lead automation transactions
The largest automation transaction of the past month was Siemens Medical Solutions’ purchase of Corindus Vascular Robotics for $1.1 billion. Waltham, Mass.-based Corindus has been developing its CorPath platform for heart and vascular procedures. Its hardware and software have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Robot Report will continue to follow Corindus closely.
Titan Medical raised $3 million in a stock sale via Aspire Capital Fund. The company closed a $25 million initial public offering in March, and its Sport orthopedic surgical system has been delayed for further development.
IotaMotion raised $2.52 million in seed funding for its iotaSOFT surgical system, which can aid cochlear implantation surgery for the treatment of hearing loss.
In the Asia-Pacific region alone — and not including Japan, which has a rapidly aging population — healthcare spending on robotics could rise to $7.03 billion by 2022, predicts IDC.
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration will be open soon.
Sight beyond sight for transportation automation
Reported automation transactions around self-driving cars and trucks totaled more than $236 million in August 2019. The biggest was autonomous truck maker PlusAI’s $200 million Series B round.
Bestmile raised a Series B round of $16.5 million for its Fleet Orchestration Platform. The Lausanne, Switzerland-based company said it will enable users “to plan, manage, and optimize autonomous and human-driven fleets.”
Commsignia closed an $11 million funding round. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup is working on “V2X” (vehicle-to-everything) systems to make connected vehicles safer. They use sensor data, software, and self-driving and smart vehicle infrastructure to help cars perceive beyond their line of sight.
Also in the business of helping smart vehicles see better, Porsche invested $2 million in TriEye, which is applying AI to short-wave infrared sensing.
After raising $100 million in July, Tier IV raised another $9 million as it develops the Autoware open-source software. Despite the competitive nature of efforts to develop self-driving cars, companies such as Baidu, Lyft, and Waymo recognize the need to get community help in solving software problems, building maps, and standardizing for safety.
Not listed in the tables above is Didi Chuxing’s spinout of its autonomous vehicles unit. It is trying to catch up to rivals in China and the U.S., reported TechCrunch.
From field to table
Strawberries are often left to rot in the field because of a shortage of farm workers. Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley led the Series A funding of $7.5 million for Advanced Farm Technologies, which is working on robotic strawberry harvesting. Harvest Croo, which is also working on automating the labor-intensive process, raised $500,000 last month.
It’s not quite harvesting, but also in field robotics, the RT-1000 from Left Hand Robotics can both mow fields and plow snow. The startup will use its $3.6 million in funding to expand distribution.
Hungry college students will soon have robots at their beck and call, as Starship Technologies raised $40 million and expanded its mobile robot deliveries to more campuses.
It’s not the same as a home-packed meal, but RT Corp. has raised $2.8 million in Series B funding for its Foodly lunch-box-packing robot. For those who don’t pack a lunch, Michael Dempsey invested an unnamed amount in One Food Co., which is building a robotic food truck (in contrast to an autonomous one).
Bear Robotics raised $10.2 million as part of ongoing fundraising for its restaurant robots, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Even as companies develop autonomous vehicles and robots for delivery, another model is tele-operated deliveries, as seen in DoorDsash’s acquisition of Scotty Labs.
Industrial automation transactions
Since robots are already profitable in manufacturing operations, there are fewer flashy investments here. Still, Nanjing Estun Automation’s $216.44 million acquisition of Carl Cloos Welding Technology is noteworthy as the second largest of last month’s automation transactions.
China-based Elite Technology raised $14 million in its Series B for its collaborative robot, and India-based CynLr raised seed investment of $780,000 as it builds “visual object intelligence for industrial robots.”
Robots are supposed to tackle dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks, and this especially clear in the energy industry. Continuing the international theme, Northern Ireland-based Re-Gen Robotics raised $1.2 million for an “explosion-proof” tank-cleaning robot.
RailPod raised $8.4 million for its rail inspection robots, according to an SEC filing.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission approved SoftBank Group’s acquisition of warehouse automation provider Berkshire Grey, but no details were available about the scale of the investment as of press time.
Drones taxi with funding
Like the consumer market before it, the commercial drone space is struggling because of slow growth, DJI’s dominance, and regulatory concerns, according to Bloomberg.com, but venture capital is still ready for takeoff. Aerial drones for infrastructure inspection, security, or consumer delivery still earned investor interest in August 2019.
You might see a flying window washer outside your office any day now, as cleaning drone company Lucid Drone Technologies raised $150 million in seed funding from Y Combinator.
In pre-Series B fundraising, computer vision firm Clobotics raised $22 million for drone deliveries and inspection of wind power facilities.
Shield AI raised $22.2 million in Series B funding for security drones, and DroneShield raised $6.5 million in post-equity sales for drone countermeasures. On a related note, Coatue led the Series B financing of $35 million for Cobalt Robotics’ ground-based security robots.
Aerones, which is developing heavy-lift drones for delivering cargo or even people in emergency situations, raised seed funding of $3 million.
Angel investors provided $350,000 to Airspace Link, which is developing drone-management software.
OpenSpace, which raised $14 million, and Versatile Nature, which raised $5.5 million, are applying “4D” maps and AI to construction sites. While their sensors are currently mounted on hard hats or cranes, respectively, they could be relevant to data someday gathered by drones or mobile robots.
Software, hardware automation transactions
Machine learning is only as good as the data it’s trained on. San Francisco-based Scale AI, which is creating software to annotate images, raised $100 million in Series C funding last month.
Augmented Pixels raised $300,000 in a seed round. It offers autonomous navigation for drones and robots in GPS-denied environments, as well as real-time simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) that’s optimized for low CPU usage and augmented and virtual reality.
Formant, or Figure Projects Inc., bought Formation for an unspecified amount. Formant offers cloud-based software for managing robotic fleets, and Formation provides teleoperation capability for semi-autonomous robots.
Applied Industrial Technologies bought motion control, machine vision, and robotics company Olympus Controls for an unspecified amount.
Service and social robots
Toy maker Sphero acquired littleBits, which makes modular electronics, in its bid to be the leading provider of educational robots. Sphero’s competition includes Emotix, which raised $7.5 million in Series A funding for its Miko social robot.
BabyTree invested an unlisted amount in Zoetic AI, which is developing a companion robot for children. Crowdfunding campaigns are beyond the scope of this roundup — see methodology below — but laundry-folding robot maker FoldiMate’s fundraising with SeedInvest is worth noting.
While a general-purpose humanoid robot is a long way off, Japanese startup GITAI raised $4.1 million as it develops a humanoid robot for demonstration in the International Space Station next year. Beyond unmanned probes, a new robotics phase has begun in the space race, with Russia, China, India, and the U.S. among the competitors.
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.