Robot Investments Weekly: Gripper Firms Grab Funding, Make Deals

Robotics Business Review

The final week of August saw a flurry of funding announcements across the robotics and artificial intelligence landscape, led by gripper firms offering different ways for robot arms to grab materials. In addition, many companies developing self-driving car technologies continued receiving investments, and the military continues its spending spree with unmanned aircraft development.

Today, we’re highlighting 21 robotics transactions from recent weeks, but you can always track more investments in the RBR Transactions Database. Our regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type. If you’re an RBR Insider, don’t forget to check out the Q2 Transactions Report, which showcases and analyzes major investment trends for the past three months. It’s free for subscribers to the Insider program.

Grab that dough! Gripper firms earn investments, build partnerships

Danish company OnRobot, already in the midst of integrating three companies into one from earlier this year, had a busy week. First, it received an undisclosed investment from global growth equity firm Summit Partners. The investment included additional funding from existing investor The Danish Growth Fund. The company said the funding will help support its continued international growth and expansion of its portfolio.

Purple Robotics OnRobot investments gripper firms

Purple Robotics developed a dual vacuum gripper for robot arms. Credit: OnRobot

That portfolio expansion happened a few days later, when the company announced acquiring Purple Robotics, developer of a dual vacuum gripper for collaborative robot arms, for an undisclosed amount. Purple Robotics, which was founded by Lasse Kieffer, Henrik Tillitz Hansen, and Peter Nadolny Madsen, will now work with OnRobot’s existing R&D department at the company’s Odense, Denmark, headquarters.

Enrico Krog Iverson, OnRobot’s CEO, said the company looks forward to being able to add the company’s developers to the company and offer the vacuum gripper to the company’s portfolio. In the spring, the companies On Robot (with the space), Perception Robotics and OptoForce merged to become OnRobot (without the space). The company’s portfolio now includes a range of end-of-arm tooling options, including electric grippers, force-moment sensors, gecko-style grippers, and tactile sensors.

“It must be easily conceivable to automate even small production batches,” Iversen said. “Otherwise, robot technology is not a good investment. This is why we hand-pick the best and most user-friendly robot products and integrate them in OnRobot.” The company said it will show the Vacuum Gripper at next month’s IMTS event in Chicago.

Another company in the gripper arena, Soft Robotics, announced a new developer’s kit that could integrate with Universal Robots collaborative arms. The company’s SRDK-UR+ is a plug-and-play customizable gripper system specifically designed for UR arms, with the ability to handle “unstructured tasks and objects of varying size, shape, and weight.” The company said users can “quickly prototype, test, and validate an infinite number of applications,” including machine tending, high-speed packaging, pick and place, assembly and CNC machine automation.

Military unmanned systems spending spree continues

The U.S. military continues to invest in projects around autonomous systems and unmanned aircraft. Boeing was the big winner of an $805 million contract to build four MQ-25A Stingray aircraft, a carrier-based drone. Under terms of the contract, Boeing will “provide the design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery, and support” of the aircraft, including integrating them into the carrier air wing, the Navy said. The project is expected to be completed by August 2024.

Other recent unmanned systems contracts include:

Commercial investments in self-driving cars, aerial vehicles

Beyond the military, commercial enterprises also continued their investments in vehicles that can operate without human drivers or pilots. Toyota made a significant investment in Uber, announcing it would invest $500 million in the ride-hailing company to continue to develop self-driving cars. While Uber has been scaling back its internal in-house self-driving initiatives, as well as its self-driving trucking projects, the new investment will likely spur joint development between Toyota and Uber.

Startups developing autonomous vehicle technologies will likely help these larger companies in their self-driving efforts. In Germany, Munich-based Blickfield increased its seed funding to $10 million, helping the company continue to develop its lidar technology.

In China, Ventech China completed a “multi-million dollar angel round financing” in China’s Surfing Tech, which is developing autonomous driving data solutions and other artificial intelligence technologies. Beijing-based Yihang.AI announced raising $32 million in a Series B round of funding, to further develop its Level 2.5 autonomous driving function, expected to be launched in June 2019.

SkyRyse image helicopter gripper firms article

Credit: SkyRyse

Moving from the ground to the air, there were two interesting developments in the aerial vehicle space. SkyRyse announced the launch of its “technology-enabled air mobility company”, along with $25 million in seed round and Series A funding. The company’s goal is to “deliver fast, safe and affordable air transportation that is unbound by today’s transportation infrastructure.” The company develops an advanced pilot assist system that combines AI, a flight perception suite, and decision-making algorithms that work with any FAA-approved vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

The company plans to begin operations in January 2019 in Tracy, Calif., where it will provide support to the city’s emergency response units, including law enforcement, search and rescue missions, and firefighters, it said in a press statement. The SkyRyse Emergency Response service will be made available to state and local governments to get first responders to emergency scenes in minutes regardless of their location.

“Because the stakes are highest in emergency response situations when minutes can mean the difference between life and death, we’re launching SkyRyse Emergency Response to support governments and municipalities first,” said Mark Groden, CEO and co-founder of SkyRyse. The company said it would also explore other options for people to get around cities in the future.

Another municipality is investigating how to utilize aerial vehicles for traffic-related situations. The city of Wilson, N.C., has been utilizing a $10,000 grant from US Ignite to send out drones to capture video footage of accident scenes. A live-streaming app would allow subject matter experts to collaborate without having to get together on scene, thanks to the footage provided by the drone. The project is currently being field-tested, with full deployment expected by early 2019.

Supply chain robotics space remains hot

Vecna Robotics autonomous mobile robots

The Vecna Robotocs RL3600 pallet truck works with humans in a warehouse. Credit: Vecna Robotics

Vecna Robotics this week filed an SEC Form D that indicated a $13.5 million equity sale. Xconomy reported that one of the board directors listed on the SEC form is Nick Solaro, a partner at Drive Capital. Robotics Business Review reached out to the company for comment on the investment, but Vecna has not responded. The company, an RBR50 2018 winner, has been around for 20 years, developing mobile robots for the supply chain and warehousing markets. Logistics robots have seen a lot of investment in recent years, including investments for Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems, Fetch Robotics, and others.

Another RBR50 company, GreyOrange, this week announced it would expand in the U.S., creating a new U.S. headquarters in Atlanta and developing a research and development center in Boston.

Construction robots maker Dusty Robotics also recently raised $2.2 million in seed funding for development of its construction automation technology.

AR funding and consumer space heats up

There’s nothing like an Apple investment to spur a whole bunch of rumors and generate heat for a market segment, so it looks like AR and/or VR is about to get hot again. Apple confirmed this week it purchased Colorado-based Akonia Holographics, a startup that develops specialized lenses used in augmented reality headsets. This, of course, leads to lots of media articles speculating that Apple would soon be developing its own AR headset. We won’t add to the speculation, other than mentioning that we’d run out immediately and purchase one (just kidding!).

In other AR investments, China Walden Venture Investments joined other investors in a $12 million funding round for Avegant, which is developing display technologies for AR headsets.

Robotics kit maker MakeBlock also is set to expand its operations, following a $44 million Series C investment.

Artificial intelligence investments vary

It wouldn’t be a weekly investments wrapup without some funding in the AI space, and this week is no different:

Foxconn among investors in new Wisconsin venture fund

Things are getting hot in Wisconsin – not only did the Green Bay Packers sign QB Aaron Rodgers to a long-term deal, a new $100 million venture fund was created to help develop technology startups in the state. The Wisconn Valley Venture Fund is a new partnership between Aurora Health, Foxconn Technology Group, Johnson Controls, and Northwestern Mutual. The early-stage venture fund will invest in companies providing “transformative and interdisciplinary innovations in health care, technology, manufacturing, and financial services.” Each of the four companies have contributed $25 million to the fund.

Nothing else to wrap up this week – see you next week!

The post Robot Investments Weekly: Gripper Firms Grab Funding, Make Deals appeared first on Robotics Business Review.


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