Robotics investments recap: May 2019

Robotics investments recap: May 2019

Cruise raised $750 million from Honda in October 2018 and another $1.15 billion in May 2019. Source: Cruise

May 2019 was a relatively slow month for robotics transactions, but money kept flowing to certain types of technologies and applications. Regular readers of this monthly roundup won’t be surprised to learn that investors continued to support companies working on drones, machine learning, sensors, and autonomous vehicles. Reported funding totaled more than $1.5 billion in at least 26 transactions this past month, in comparison with $6.5 billion across 30 deals in April.

Also, The Robot Report counted $2.5 billion in 27 transactions among robotics startups in May 2018. The actual figures are likely larger, since several companies didn’t specify amounts. There were fewer investments in robots for manufacturing in May 2019. The one failure this month — B-Scada Inc.’s discontinuation of its supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software line — was in industrial automation.

However, transportation, supply chain and logistics, and healthcare continued to draw interest from venture capitalists, as described below.

Innovators, engineers, and investors can learn more about current trends in investments and automation at the Robotics Summit & Expo this week in Boston. Expert speakers from around the world will discuss topics such as design best practices, robotics clusters, and the role of emerging technologies. The show will also include hands-on workshops, numerous robot demonstrations, and networking events.

In addition, Robot Report editor Steve Crowe will be moderating a panel on “Robotics Investment and Commercial Opportunities” featuring Cyril Ebersweiler, general partner at SOSV and founder of HAX; Sana Fathima, investment manager at Lockheed Martin Ventures; and Joost Nijhoff, head of investments at Odense Robotics. Register now to attend the Robotics Summit & Expo.

The table below lists amounts in millions of U.S. dollars where they were available:

Company Amt. (M$) Type Lead investor, partner Date Technology
Accerion Series A Phoenix Contract Innovation Ventures May 21, 2019 positioning system
ActLight SA Series C Swisscom Venture May 14, 2019 light sensors
Algorithmia 25 Series B Norwest Venture Partners May 14, 2019 machine learning algorithm store
Altoida 6.3 Series A M Ventures May 31, 2019 AI Alzheimer's detection
Cruise 1150 investment T. Rowe Price Associates, Honda, SoftBank Vision Fund, General Motors May 7, 2019 self-driving cars
Forcen 0.5 seed NorthSpring Capital Partners May 24, 2019 force sensors
Gringgo Indonesia Foundation investment Google Inc. May 31, 2019 AI-driven recycling
Invert Robotics 8.8 venture funding Finistere Ventures May 2, 2019 tank inspection robots
Karakuri 9.1 seed Ocado Ltd. May 9, 2019 food production
Neolix Technologies 14.54 investment Yungi Capital May 16, 2019 autonomous vehicle
Neural Analytics Inc. 22 Series C Alpha Edison May 8, 2019 brain medical robotics
NextStep Robotics 0.6 investment Abell Foundation May 14, 2019 assistive/wearable
Overwatch Imaging Series A Tenax Aerospace May 8, 2019 airborne imaging
Performance Rotors investment she1K May 31, 2019 drone inspection
Pickle Robots 3.7 Series A Hyperplane Ventures May 23, 2019 boxing robots
Pillo Health 11 Series A Stanley Black & Decker, Samsung Ventures May 29, 2019 voice-enabled systems
Realtime Robotics Inc. equity stake Mitsubishi Electric Corp. May 7, 2019 motion planning
Robosen 14.5 Series A CMB International Capital Corp. May 31, 2019 transforming toy
Rogo Ag LLC 0.2 investment Purdue Ag-Celerator Fund, Ag Alumni Seed May 30, 2019 precision agriculture
Stratio Automotive 3 investment Crane Venture Partners, LocalGlobe May 9, 2019 predictive maintenance
TerraClear Inc. 6.1 investment Madrona Venture Group May 1, 2019 rock-picking robot
Toyota AI Ventures 100 Fund II Toyota Research Institute May 2, 2019 mobility technology
TriEye 17 Series A Intel Capital May 28, 2019 self-driving sensors
Vän Robotics 0.2 investment SC Launch Inc. May 30, 2019 educational robots
Zipline 190 investment TPG May 17, 2019 drone delivery

There were relatively few mergers and acquisitions this past month, and no amounts were provided.

Company Acquirer, partner Date Technology
Azima Global SymphonyAI Group 5/15/2019 AI in manufacturing
Blackmore Sensors and Analytics Inc. Aurora Innovation Inc. 5/25/2019 lidar
Iconics Inc. Mitsubishi Electric Corp. 5/12/2019 industrial automation
Infaimon Stemmer Imaging 5/22/2019 SCADA software

Self-driving car funding races on

The biggest reported transaction of May 2019 was the $1.15 billion investment by Honda Motor Co., the SoftBank Vision Fund, and T. Rowe Price Associates into General Motors Co.’s Cruise autonomous vehicle unit. Even as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and the Uber Advanced Technology Group raise billions, Cruise is staffing up to 1,000 people and plans to test commercial services later this year.

Kyle Vogt, co-founder, president, and chief technology officer of Cruise, will be delivering a keynote at the Robotics Summit & Expo.

Also last month, Toyota AI Ventures announced its second $100 million fund for investing in autonomous vehicles, mobility systems, and robotics. Toyota AI Ventures, which works with the Toyota Research Institute, is looking for early-stage startups that hope to apply artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and other technologies for new market opportunities.

Several sensor-related transactions in May 2019 were also related to self-driving cars. For instance, autonomous vehicle firm Aurora Innovation Inc. acquired Blackmore Sensors and Analytics Inc., which is developing “Doppler radar.”

Tel Aviv, Israel-based TriEye raised $17 million in Series A led by Intel Capital for shortwave infrared sensors.

Swisscom Venture led a Series C round for ActLight SA. Lausanne, Switzerland-based ActLight is developing time-of-flight systems to improve depth-sensing performance in smartphones, autonomous vehicles, and other devices.

Portugal-based Stratio Automotive raised $3 million to scale its AI for predictive maintenance of vehicle fleets.

Supply chain automation funding

Although no mobile platforms for warehouses earned investor support in May 2019, other aspects of automation did. Drone delivery startup Zipline raised $190 million in Series C, bringing its valuation to more than $1 billion. The San Francisco-area company said it plans to expand its medical supply delivery services worldwide.

Neolithic Century Technology Co., or Neolix, raised $14.54 million led by Yungi Capital for its self-driving delivery vehicle, which it is already mass-producing in China.

Hyperplane Ventures led a $3.7 million Series A round for Pickle Robots, an MIT spinoff focusing on robots to stack and organize boxes for which items have already been picked, presumably by other robots.

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. took an equity stake in motion planning firm Realtime Robotics Inc. Boston-based Realtime is working on systems that can determine the best path for a robot to take. Mitsubishi also acquired Iconics Inc., which is working on SCADA, Internet of Things (IoT), analytical, and cloud software for factory automation.

Gringgo Indonesia Foundation, which is applying image recognition to plastics recycling, received a grantfrom Google Inc. In addition, aerial imaging firm Overwatch Imaging raised a Series A with Tenax Aerospace, but no amounts were announced.

Speaking of drones, Performance Rotors also raised an unspecified amount, led by women’s investment group she1K, for unmanned aerial vehicles for infrastructure inspection. On the flip side, Invert Robotics raised $8.8 million led by Finistere Ventures for clinging robots that can inspect tanks used in everything from dairy, food and beverage, oil and gas, and pharmaceuticals.

Paging funding for AI, robots in healthcare

Cognitive systems were popular among medical and healthcare investors last month. Pillo Health raised $11 million from Stanley Black & Decker, Samsung Ventures, and others for its voice-enabled assistive systems. The Boston-based company plans to use its Series A funding to bring its systems into homes to help people remember to take their medications.

Altoida raised $6.3 million for its technology to predict and detect Alzheimer’s disease. Neural Analytics Inc. raised $22 million in Series C for its Lucid Robotic System, which combines the Lucid M1 Transcranial Doppler system with its NeuralBot to monitor brain blood flow.

Baltimore-based NextStep Robotics LLC raised $600,000 for its robotic device that is designed to help stroke patients with rehabilitation and to avoid foot drops, which could lead to dangerous falls.

Food, farming robots raise funds

Industry analysts expect robots to play an increasing role in food handling, from the farm to the grocer to the table. The global food robotics market will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.7% from 2019 to 2025 to reach $3.1 billion, predicts Meticulous Research.

U.K.-based grocer Ocado Ltd., which is working on its own robots, led a $9.1 million seed round for Karakuri, which is automating the assembly of ready-to-eat meal kits.


The Marley system can dispense food to order. Source: Karakuri

The global market for robots, drones, and AI in agriculture will experience a CAGR of 24.76%, from $2.53 billion in 2018 to $23.06 billion in 2028, according to BIS Research. Labor shortages, improvements in data gathering and analysis, and the need for sustainable and secure food sources will drive demand, it said.

TerraClear Inc. is working on systems that integrate machine vision, aerial sensing, and robots to remove rocks from fields. In May 2019, it closed a $6.1 million funding round led by Madrona Venture Group and plans to use the money for hiring, product development, and testing.

Rogo Ag LLC, whose autonomous SmartCore robots are designed to gather more accurate soil samples to inform farmers’ decision-making, received $100,000 from the Purdue Ag-Celerator Fund and Purdue University’s Ag Alumni Seed.

Components, consumer tech capture more cash

Robots and AI are only as good as their ingredient technologies. Toronto-based Forcen raised $500,000 in seed funding for its force-sensing film for surgical robots, industrial automation, and aerospace/defense systems.

Netherlands-based startup Accerion raised unspecified Round A funding for its optical positioning system for autonomous mobile robots that uses the floor rather than other infrastructure. Stemmer Imaging acquired Spain-based machine vision company Infaimon Group for an unspecified amount.

Algorithmia said its Series B round of $25 million, led by Norwest Venture Partners, will help it scale its AI Layer tools for optimizing machine-learning applications. Also in AI, SymphonyAI Group acquired Azima Global, which makes cloud-based machine diagnostic systems for industrial IoT.

On the consumer side, Robosen raised $14.5 million for its transforming robotic toy. University of South Carolina spinoff Vän Robotics received $200,000 from SC Launch Inc. to develop robots that use AI for education and entertainment.

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Editors’ note: What defines robotics investments? The answer to this simple question is central in any attempt to quantify robotics investments 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, think, 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, 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.