May was another big month for robotics – 13 companies were funded to the tune of $111 million. Four companies were acquired with 2 of the 4 reporting selling prices totaling $422 million. And that’s without the $5.2 billion bid for Kuka by Chinese Midea, or the pending sale of Google's Boston Dynamics.
UPDATE: June 1, 2016: Forbes wrote today that Toyota is in discussions with Google not only for Boston Dynamics but also for Schaft, the Japanese startup that won the DARPA Robotics Challenge — a two-company sale.
The financial pages are lighting up over recent stories about these big-money sales. First there was the $5.2 billion offer by Midea Group, a Chinese appliance manufacturer, for Kuka AG, the Augsburg, Germany-based manufacturer of robots and automated systems. Kuka is one of the Big Four of robot manufacturers. On the day of the bid, Kuka's stock rose from $84/share to $110 where it's stayed since.
Then came the announcement by Tech Insider that the Toyota Research Institute is in the final phase of negotiations to acquire Google's robotics company Boston Dynamics, of Big Dog fame. Boston Dynamics spun out of the MIT Leg Lab in 1992 and worked on various military and DARPA funded research projects until Google's Andy Rubin acquired the company along with 8 other robotics companies. Boston Dynamics never quite adapted to Google and Google's push to build a consumer robot, hence their being put on the block in March, 2016.
From Forbes, news of a new fund focusing on robotics: Chrysalix VC, a Vancouver, BC venture capital group focused on alternative energy, has partnered with Dutch robotics commercialization center RoboValley to create a new VC fund focused on robotics. The vehicle is targeting E100 million.
Below are the fundings, acquisitions, IPOs and failures that actually happened in May:
- Locus Robotics raised $8 million in a Series A funding from existing seed investors. The funds will be used to expand product development and general marketing of Locus' novel material handling robots. Locus is a Massachusetts-based company founded specifically in answer to Kiva Systems' robots being taken inhouse by Amazon and no long available to non-Amazon clients. Locus' founder, Bruce Welty is a Kiva-using distribution center owner, who, as a consequence of Amazon's actions, had no recourse other than to build a company that uses a fleet of robots integrated into current warehouse management systems to provide robotic platforms to carry picked items to a conveyor or to the packing station thereby reducing human walking distances and improving overall picking efficiencies.
- Gamaya, a Swiss aerial analytics spin-off from the Swiss EPFL, raised $3.2 million in a Series A funding. Funds will be used to develop their new 40 bands of light hyperspectral imaging sensor and analytics software platform (traditional multi-spectral sensors have 4 bands).
- Hortau is a California soil moisture monitoring company which raised $10 million to grow and broaden their new system of networked field sensors, weather stations and control units allowing growers to remotely open and close valves and fire up engines for irrigation from cloud-based management software.
- nuTonomy is a Cambridge-based start-up that raised $16 million in a Series A round of funding from a group of Singapore and US VCs. This is in addition to the $3.6 million raised in January which included funds from Ford Chairman Bill Ford. nuTonomy is planning to launch a fleet of autonomous taxies in Singapore by 2019 and begin testing later this year. NuTonomy is using retrofitted Mitsubishi electric cars and plans to add Renault EVs later this year.
- Mazor Surgical Technologies, an Israeli company, has sold $11.9 million of their stock, 4% of their shares, to Medtronic, a global medical technology, services, and solutions provider, with a performance agreement to sell another 6% of Mazor shares for up to $20 million. An additional clause of the agreement kicks in if performance milestones are met whereby Mazor can issue an addition 5% of new shares for an additional $20M from Medtronic. Details of the deal are here.
- Dedrone GmbH, a German startup whose DroneTracker drone detection platform, raised $10 million in a Series A funding from a series of EU and Silicon Valley VCs. In just 15 months, Dedrone has grown to more than 40 employees and 100 distributors in over 50 countries.
- Astrobotic Technology, the CMU spin-off company working on delivering payloads to the moon, raised $2.5 million from Space Angels Network. Astrobotic has 10 projects with governments, companies, universities, non-profits, NASA, and individuals for their first moon mission.
- MegaBots, an Oakland, CA entertainment startup, has raised $2.4 million in seed funding to bring robot-fighting to a venue near you. MegaBots plans to use the seed funding to build their robot for the fight against the Japanese team they’ve challenged; and to secure sponsorships, perhaps even a TV contract for a program that tracks the team from building the robots to competing.
- Zipline International, a San Francisco startup, raised $800k from UPS and $18 million from Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and others to develop their small robot airplane designed to carry vaccines, medicine and blood to remote areas where health workers place text orders for what they need.
- Cyberhawk Innovations raised $2.9 million in financing to enable UK-based Cyberhawk to expand its commercial development of the drone-captured data inspection market for the oil & gas industry and infrastructure markets.
- Eonite Perception, a Silicon Valley vision systems startup, raised $5.25 million in a seed round from multiple Silicon Valley VCs. Eonite is building a 3D mapping and tracking system for the virtual reality marketplace using low latency dense depth sensors.
- eyeSight Technologies, an Israeli vision systems startup, received $20 million from a Chinese VC group, for its vision system of sensing, gesture recognition and user awareness to be embedded into consumer products.
- AIO Robotics is a Los Angeles startup developing an all-in-one 3D printer scanner with an onboard CAD and modeling system. AIO received an undisclosed amount of seed funding.
- 5D Robotics, a San Diego area integrator of unmanned and mobile robotics using ultra-wide band (5D) communications, acquired Aerial MOB, a drone aerial cinematography startup, for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition has led to the formation of the 5D Aerial division which will provide 3D mapping, photogrammetry, thermal and multi-spectral imagery data to vertical markets including oil and gas, utilities and construction.
- Dematic, a global supplier of AGVs and materials handling technology, acquired (in March) NDC Automation, an AGV manufacturer in Australia and New Zealand, for an undisclosed amount.
- Voith GmbH, a family-owned German group of industrial and engineering companies, has sold 80% of its industrial services unit to buyout group Triton Partners for $342 million to free up capital for planned investments. Voith has a 25.1% share of Kuka's stock which, if the $5.2 bn Midea offer passes, will be worth close to 40% more than the share value the day before the offer. According to Forbes, Voith ranks 200th in global family-owned businesses with revenue of $7.5 bn and 43,000 employees.
- ChemChina and a group of other investors including Chinese state funds, acquired Germany’s KraussMaffei Automation, an industrial robot integrator and plastics, carbon fiber, and rubber processor, for $1 billion – in January.
- None. Private placements and increased investment from hedge funds, mutual funds and via corporate acquisitions appears to have dried up the robotics IPO pipeline.
- But… Moley Robotics, a UK startup developing a cooking robot, is using the new equity crowd funding rules that passed the FCC last year to offer 2% of their shares via the Seedrs crowd funding site. Details will be released soon to subscribers to the Moley and Seedrs websites.
- RoboDynamics, a SoCal startup with a stylish mobile telepresence robot named Luna, has gone out of business.