Robot Investments Weekly: Love Blooms for Self-Driving, Robotics Firms

Robotics Business Review

Love was in the air this week – not just because of Valentine’s Day, although I think that helped with investors and other companies, who not only spent money on startups, but also plunked money down on acquiring other companies. This week saw its usual investments in the autonomous vehicle, artificial intelligence and robotics space.

Today, we’re highlighting 21 recent robotics and AI transactions, as well as some news items. If you’ve missed some transactions over the past few months, you can track them through the RBR Transactions Database. This regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type.

Big mergers for robotic companies

Large companies are continuing to see the value of robotics companies in their particular market, as we saw several acquisition announcements this week.

FLIR Systems, which recently acquired unmanned aerial vehicle company Aeryon Labs, announced it had acquired Endeavor Robotics for $385 million. The acquisition now makes FLIR, a maker of sensor systems that “enhance perception and heighten awareness”, a major player in the unmanned vehicle system, whether on land (Endeavor) or the skies (Aeryon Labs). You can read more about the FLIR purchase of Endeavor here.

AurisHealth Monarch Platform holiday gifts article

AurisHealth Monarch Platform

In the medical robotics space, Johnson & Johnson made news this week with its announcement of a $3.4 billion acquisition of Auris Health. The deal could even be worth more, as the deal could include $2.35 billion in additional payments upon reaching certain predetermined milestones. Auris Health makes an FDA-approved platform used in bronchoscopic (lungs) diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, initially focusing on lung cancer. Johnson & Johnson said the acquisition will accelerate its entry into robotics with the potential for expanding into other interventional applications.

“In this new era of health care, we’re aiming to simplify surgery, drive efficiency, reduce complications and improve outcomes for patients, ultimately making surgery safer,” said Ashley McEvoy, executive vice president of Johnson & Johnson’s medical devices division.

Dr. Frederic Moll, the founder of Auris Health and one of the leaders in the surgical robotics field, will be joining Johnson & Johnson upon completion of the transaction, the company said.

Johnson & Johnson also recently acquired Orthotaxy’s robotic technology for orthopedics, and it continues to develop the Verb Surgical Platform through its strategic partnership with Verily.

In the components market, Genuine Parts Company’s Motion Industries division announced plans to acquire Axis New England and Axis New York. Axis New England, based in Danvers, Mass., is an automation and robotics company with advanced machine automation expertise; the company sells component parts, systems, and engineered systems along with Axis New York (based in Rochester, N.Y.). The company said the acquisition will expand Motion’s capabilities in the area of industrial plant floor automation.

Funding for self-driving vehicles and trucks

Even with doubt cast on how far autonomous vehicle development is progressing, large investments continued in the space this week.

May Mobility self-driving shuttle

Credit: May Mobility

May Mobility, which is developing self-driving transit vehicles, announced $22 million in new funding (Series A). Stating that it is “the only enterprise autonomous transportation company providing daily transit to the American public,” May Mobility said the new round of funding will help to expand engineering and operations to meet growing demand.

“We – today – provide mobility services that are reliable and safe, on public roads, with a tech stack designed to operate now and ready to scale as the industry and customers are ready,” said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. “Our unique technology solves customers’ real-world transportation problems, and we are continuously collecting valuable technical data and market insights while generating revenue in the process.”

The company focuses on the “last-mile” transportation market, such as short trips within urban cores. The service is currently navigating the streets of downtown Detroit, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio. “These routes are in high-density areas, filling a critical need for customers and riders, but challenging for traditional autonomous vehicles.” The company said it will soon be launching public services in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Providence, R.I., with more deployments across the U.S. later this year.

Another company in the transit and “last-mile” space is Nuro – but instead of people, it’s transporting goods like groceries. The company announced a whopping $940 million investment this week from the SoftBank Vision Fund, to expand its self-driving delivery vehicle. The company, which has been delivering groceries for Kroger in Arizona, said it will use the funding to expand to additional localities.

You can read more about that announcement in this Robotics Business Review post.

TuSimple Self-Driving Truck

Source: TuSimple

Another company joining the unicorn club (more than $1B valuation) this week was TuSimple, which announced a $95 million Series D round of funding for its self-driving trucking venture. The company said it will use the new funds to continue to grow its commercial autonomous fleet, which currently makes daily fully autonomous deliveries in Arizona, and soon for Texas. “The fleet allows the company to earn revenue while validating its SAE Level fully-autonomous system,” the company said in its announcement. With 12 contracted customers making three to five delivery trips per day, TuSimple said the new funds will grow the fleet to more than 50 trucks by June.

“Autonomous driving is one of the most complex AI systems humans have ever built. After three years of intense focus to reach our technical goals, we have moved beyond research into the serious work of building a commercial solution,” said Dr. Xiadi Hou, founder and CTO at TuSimple.

The company said it uses an innovative camera-centric perception solution that lets its trucks see 1,000 meters ahead of the vehicle, giving farther visibility than other autonomous driving systems, allowing the trucks to operate safely at highway speeds.

Unmanned systems in the air, sea

Self-driving ground vehicles weren’t the only products receiving funding this week. We also saw continued funding for aerial vehicle and undersea vehicle development.

Mobilicom, based in Israel, received a $1.2 million grant to help develop anti-hacking and anti-spoofing modules for drones. Funded by the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Israel Innovation Authority, the grant will allow Mobilicom to develop an anti-hijacking and anti-spoofing system for commercial, government, and enterprise drones and robots. The company said the system “will enable autonomous drone cybersecurity without intervention by an operator in real-time.”

Mobilicom CEO Oren Elkayam, who I interviewed last year, said the company “holds the key components that durns a drone into a ‘smart drone.’ We look forward to offer drone and robotics manufacturers our new technology leveraging artificial intelligence as an add-on module for drones and other unmanned platforms.”

Elroy Air, which is developing a large aerial drone system that can deliver cargo-sized packages of up to 500 pounds, announced a $9.2 million seed round funding this week. It also revealed plans to begin real-world testing of its drone fleet this year, with commercial programs for a small number of shippers in 2020.

Moving from air to sea, the U.S. Navy announced a $43 million contract modification for Boeing to develop four Orca Unmanned Undersea Vehicles this week. Work is expected to be completed by June 2022.

Wrapping up the rest

With so many big announcements this week, I’m going to wrap up the rest of the interesting transactions in this space with our traditional bullet list. Click the link to read more about the investment or transaction:

I’m taking some time off next week, so I won’t have another roundup until March 1. Happy February everyone!

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