Despite strong economic headwinds from global shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some funding and merger activity continued in April 2020, particularly in healthcare, transportation, and manufacturing.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic began late last year in China and started affecting the global economy in March, it was April 2020 when the U.S. shut down as governments scrambled to contain the infection and its economic aftershocks. However, investment and mergers and acquisition continued to benefit automation for healthcare, cleaning, and supply chain applications.
Robotics Business Review tracked about 26 transactions worth a total of more than $600 million last month, compared with 29 deals worth $2.7 billion in March 2020 and 30 transactions worth $6.5 billion in April 2019. However, there were no reported shutdowns, even as driverless car testing, startup activity, and technology conferences faltered. According to ABI Research, 2019 was a record year for robotics, with $49 billion in investments, so there is reason for hope beyond the current crisis.
Unlike restaurants and hotels, most robotics developers, suppliers, and integrators have continued working through the COVID-19 pandemic. From drawing on stockpiled parts to continuing research or support from homes, the robotics industry has been relatively resilient. In a few applications, such as disinfection and cleaning, delivery of food and medicine, and telepresence, robots have been in high demand. The robotics community also contributed to efforts to quickly resupply personal protective equipment and ventilators.
The table below lists fundings in millions of U.S. dollars, where amounts were publicly available.
Robotics investments, April 2020
|Investor, acquirer, partner
|Agile Robots AG
|AI, service robots
|Bullnet Capital, Inveready
|SoftBank Vision Fund
|ABC Westland, Netherlands
|Cobalt Robotics Inc.
|San Mateo, Calif.
|FEDS Group Holdings Ltd.
|Hyundai-Aptiv AD LLC
|G7 Networks Ltd., Global Logistic Properties Ltd.
|Utrust VC, Forebright Capital, Walden International
|Jianjia Robot Co.
|NXP Semiconductors NV
|Celeres Investments, Ford Motor Co., KT
|Far East Tech Fund
|Santa Clara, Calif.
|Rise Robotics (LiftWave Inc.)
|MicroPort Scientific Corp.
|Wayz Intelligent Manufacturing Technology
|Shenzhen Capital Group, CICC Qichen Fund
|Fosun RZ Capital, Green Pine Capital
Still, startups will need to draw on “rainy day” funds to survive until a recovery. Many businesses hope to reopen soon, despite concerns about a second wave of infections and fatalities. It remains to be seen how quickly the U.S. economy and others will be able to resume business.
“Any startup without funding for the next 24 months is going to struggle,” said Dor Skuler, CEO of Intuition Robotics. “If they don’t have enough for the next 12 months, they’re really going to struggle.”
Consolidation is likely in some sectors, but merger activity has also slowed, with only two reported acquisitions in April 2020, compared with one in the previous month and six a year ago.
Robotics acquisitions, April 2020
Funding keeps on rolling for self-driving cars and trucks
Although shutdowns in reaction to COVID-19 have slowed work on autonomous vehicles, it hasn’t halted funding, with more than $174 million fueling companies in April 2020. Shanghai-based Inceptio Technology raised $100 million and was the first company to receive China’s A-sample validation for self-driving trucks.
IDG Capital led a $24 million seed round for Qcraft Inc. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm is developing a simulation system for driverless vehicles. Meanwhile, Burlingame, Calif.-based Phantom AI, which is working on advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), received $22 million in Series A funding.
Beijing-based Zvision obtained $9.92 million in Series A1 support as it develops solid-state lidar, and Boston-based joint venture Hyundai-Aptiv AD raised $9.1 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
NXP Semiconductors led €8 million ($9 million U.S.) in investment in Kalray, The Grenoble, France-based company is developing computing platforms for ADAS and automated driving software using NXP’s processors.
Manufacturing and logistics automation suppliers get investment
Manufacturing and supply chain transactions have not been as numerous as those for other areas of automation, but they still represent the largest markets for robotics. Wayz Intelligent Manufacturing Technology in Wuxi, China, raised $36 million in April 2020.
Guangdong, China-based Youibot Robotics raised an unspecified amount of seed funding for autonomous mobile inspection and conveyor robots.
Japanese automotive supplier Denso Corp. participated in unspecified investment in Dutch company Certhon Group, which is developing fully automated greenhouses.
On the logistics side, drone delivery firm Elroy Air in San Francisco got $6.78 million in Series A1 investment. Somerville, Mass.-based LiftWave Inc., doing business as Rise Robotics, raised $3 million for high-performance linear actuators for forklifts and heavy-duty autonomous systems. It also raised $7.3 million out of a $7.8 million offering, according to an SEC filing.
Surgical and service robots gain relevance in April 2020
Not surprisingly, surgical, assistive, and cleaning robots have done better than retail and customer-service systems in the past few months. Rouen, France-based cardiovascular system developer Robocath got €40 million ($43.76 million) in Series C funding as it expands into Asian markets.
Baidu Ventures led an unspecified Series A round for Hangzhou, China-based Jianjia Robot which is developing robots to aid orthopedic surgeons.
Dongguan, China-based Narwal Robotics received Series B funding of 100 million yuan ($14 million), led by TikTok owner ByteDance, for its cleaning robots. Cobalt Robotics, which makes security systems, reportedly raised $13 million in its Series A round.
AI, component companies complete April 2020
The largest single investment of April 2020 was the $141 million pre-IPO funding of Intellifusion in Shenzhen, China. It is working on processors for artificial intelligence that could be useful for robotics, autonomous vehicles, and more.
In-Q-Tel recently invested in a number of technology companies, including $5.6 million in computer vision software developer AI.Reverie in New York.
Madrid-based Anyverse had a €3 million ($3.3 million) Series A round as it develops synthetic data for training perception systems. On the other side of the world, Shanghai-based Crowntech Photonics raised $1.4 million for sensor technology.
We at WTWH Media wish all of our U.S. readers a happy Memorial Day weekend!
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.