The novel coronavirus pandemic slowed global manufacturing as investors look to the future of transportation.
Although the number of robotics, artificial intelligence, drone, and autonomous vehicle transactions fell in May 2020, investors and industry analysts remained cautiously optimistic. Last month, self-driving car companies raised more than $1 billion, followed by supply chain, healthcare, and other automation providers.
In May 2020, Robotics Business Review tracked 20 deals worth about $1.5 billion, compared with 26 robotics transactions worth more than $600 million in April 2020 and $1.5 billion in 27 transactions in May 2019. In a recent study, Silicon Valley Bank noted that the trend toward fewer, larger deals has continued.
The slump in global manufacturing had a ripple effect on automation, as several countries have faced a second wave of COVID-19 infections and closures. China, which was first affected by the novel coronavirus, has also been the first to recover, according to IHS Markit.
Diversification of production and supply chains could also help robotics rebound, said several industry analysts. Investors have shown confidence in leading robotics manufacturers such as ABB and Rockwell Automation, said The Motley Fool in late April.
The table below lists fundings in millions of U.S. dollars, where amounts were publicly available.
Robotics investments, May 2020
|Lead investor, partner
|Beijing Idriverplus Technology Co.
|HOPU-Arm Innovation Fund
|Didi Chuxing Technology Co.
|SoftBank Vision Fund 2
|Dishcraft Robotics Inc.
|Galaxis Technology Co.
|CGP Investments, Boxin Capital
|computer vision, AR
|Dell Technologies Capital
|machine learning on a chip
|SOS Labs Co.
|Korea Development Bank
|SVT Robotics LLC
|integration platform as a service
|Sequoia Capital China
|T. Rowe Price Associates, Perry Creek Capital, Fidelity Management and Research Co.
|Zhejiang Damon Technology Co.
There was only one merger or acquisition in May 2020: Brown Machine Group acquired Knoxville, Tenn.-based industrial automation firm aXatronics Co. for an undisclosed amount. In comparison, there were two acquisitions in April 2020, and six worth at least $5.1 billion a year ago.
Waymo, Didi Chuxing, and Tesla raise more funding
The largest single transaction of May 2020 was Waymo LLC’s fundraising of $750 million, led by T. Rowe Price Associates. This came in addition to the $2.25 billion the Mountain View, Calif.-based self-driving car company raised in March.
That was followed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 investment of $500 million in Didi Chuxing Technology Co.’s autonomous driving unit. Although SoftBank has had difficulties with its second Vision Fund, the first external funding for Beijing-based Didi Chuxing shows that it is serious about expanding self-driving car deployments across China.
Shanghai-based Motovis, which is working on deep learning and VSLAM (Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) algorithms for self-driving cars, raised $14.1 million. In addition, South Korean startup SOS LAB, which has developed hybrid and solid-state lidar sensors, closed an $8 million Series A+ round last month.
Beijing Idriverplus Technology raised an unspecified Series C1 worth “tens of millions of U.S. dollars.” The company has reportedly logged 1.3 million km (807,000 mi.) of autonomous driving.
Although its partly autonomous electric vehicles are beyond the scope of this roundup, the May 2020 loan of $565.51 million taken by Tesla Inc. for a new factory in Shanghai demonstrates that the transportation sector expects to rebound, even as commuting has paused worldwide.
Similarly, Intel Corp.’s $900 million acquisition of Israeli “mobility-as-a-service” provider Moovit does not strictly count as a self-driving car transaction, but Intel does expect to add it to its Mobileye autonomous and driver-assistance system (ADAS) services.
Logistics robots get investments in May 2020
Robotics companies serving supply chain and logistics applications raised more than $150 million in May 2020. led by Zhejiang Damon Technology Co. The materials handling supplier said it expects to raise $69 million in its initial public offering in Shanghai.
Berkeley, Calif.-based Covariant obtained $40 million in Series B funding as it develops “AI Robotics” for robotic manipulation that needs less hand-holding (pun intended).
Mobile robot provider arculus in Ingolstadt, Germany, raised $17.5 million in Series A funding to support manufacturing, and Shenzhen, China-based autonomous mobile robot maker Syrius raised $10 million in its Series A+ round.
Norfolk, Va.-based SVT Robotics, which is developing a software platform as a service for supply chain automation, said it completed a seed round of $3.5 million.
Healthcare, components, and agriculture firms get funding
A handful of other robotics investments rounded out May 2020. In healthcare, Stereotaxis, a cardiac robotics developer in St. Louis, raised $15 million, and Fourier Intelligence in Shanghai raised an unspecified Series B for its rehabilitation systems.
While more relevant to medical devices than surgical robots, Stryker announced a $2.3 billion offering to finance its purchase of Memphis-based Wright Medical Group NV. Sylmar, Calif.-based Second Sight Medical Products Inc., which makes visual prosthetics, raised $6.8 million in a stock sale.
In software and components, Zurich-based computer vision and artificial intelligence firm Scandit raised $80 million in Series C funding, and Dell Technologies Capital led a $30 million Series A round in San Jose, Calif.-based SiMa.ai, which offers “machine learning on a chip” for edge processing.
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, 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.
About the author:
Eugene Demaitre is senior editor at The Robot Report and Robotics Business Review. Prior to working at WTWH Media, he was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and EH Media. Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master’s from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.