Robot Investments Weekly: More Money for Self-Driving, AI Startups

Robotics Business Review

With the madness of CES behind us, we’re able to catch up on a bunch of investments in the robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicle space over the past few weeks. Companies working on either AI systems or AV systems received investor interest (aka ‘more money’) during this timeframe.

Today, we’re highlighting 18 recent robotics and AI transactions. If you’ve missed some other transactions from the past months, you can track them in the RBR Transactions Database. Our regularly updated database lets you sort deals by company, industry, technology, or transaction type.

Self-driving vehicle space earns investor love

Companies developing self-driving car systems, sensors that help drive those systems, or aerial drone companies and delivery firms were able to achieve additional funding recently.

For example, lidar maker Baraja scored $32 million in a Series A round of funding right after the start of the new year, led by Sequoia China. The company launched its unique lidar system that uses “prism-like optics and shifting wavelengths of light to create powerful eyes for self-driving vehicles,” instead of the more traditional lidar systems that use spinning lasers. Baraja said its lidar has the ability for self-driving software to “instantaneously change scan resolution and adapt to the environment, similar to how humans can control their visual focus.”

The Sydney, Australia-based company plans to use the new funding to scale up its production, hire talent, and “continue its mission to enable safer autonomous driving.”

Another lidar company, Chinese firm Benewake, raised an undisclosed amount in Series B2 funding, according to this DealStreetAsia report. The company’s flash lidar and 3D lidar systems are used in autonomous vehicles, drones, smart-home robots, and autonomous guided vehicles.

One other item to note – while nothing is official, a recent report by Recode stated that self-driving startup Aurora Innovation was expected to lead a financing round of at least $500 million. The company made headlines last February for announcing it was going to be part of Byton’s Concept electric SUV.

Two firms related to self-driving vehicles close deals

Fortellix this week announced raising $14 million for its self-driving vehicle verification system. The Tel Aviv, Israel-based company is developing a coverage-driven verification framework, which uses intelligent automation and analytics to verify the safety of autonomous vehicles. The systems help “ensure that the autonomous vehicle behaves properly in the 100s of millions of critical-driving scenarios, and are therefore safe for broad deployment.”

ClearMotion, which is developing an intelligent drive chassis that gives passengers a smoother ride, recently earned $115 million in additional funding. Through a combination of software and hardware, ClearMotion can predict the road and enable cars to react, giving passengers and drivers more comfort, handling, and stability. While the system can be used in cars with drivers, their system has attracted interest by autonomous vehicle developers for their vehicles.

Delivery space heats up

Two noteworthy investments in the delivery space occurred recently, as companies figure out how they’re going to get the stuff you order to your home faster.

Postmates Serve delivery robot

Postmate’s Serve, an autonomous delivery robot. Source: Postmates

Postmates secured $100 million in new funding, ahead of a possible IPO, according to this report at Recode. While Postmates uses lots of humans to deliver goods, late last year it announced its Serve robot, an internally developed autonomous delivery rover. It’s likely that any additional investments would be used to scale up more delivery robots such as Serve.

Israeli firm Flytrex, which uses aerial drones to deliver goods in Iceland and North Dakota, also recently announced raising $7.5 million in funding. The firm is also piloting a program in North Carolina for on-demand drone delivery – I spoke with the CEO, Yariv Bash, at CES earlier this month, about where the company is going with its plans.

Using drones for inventory scanning

This week saw a lot of news from the National Retail Federation’s “Big Show” in New York. Pensa Systems was using the show to demonstrate its retail inventory scanning system that uses small indoor drones to locate out-of-stock items in shelves and coolers (they had a big pilot project with Anheuser-Busch in Montreal). The company also announced raising $5 million in additional funding to expand its technology – soon when you go to the store to buy a 12-pack for the big game, you might see some indoor drones flying around the store.

Pensa Systems indoor drone more money article

Pensa Systems’ indoor retail inventory scanning drone. Source: Pensa Systems

Related to location, Humatics announced raising $28 million to advance its microlocation precision platform. While the company doesn’t make robot arms or autonomous vehicles, their technology will greatly improve performance for those systems and more, giving them the ability to know exactly where they are. It’s cool technology from a very cool company – check out this interview I did with the company’s CEO, David Mindell, last year.

AI Corner: Far and wide applications

Funding announcements were fast and furious in the AI space recently, spanning companies looking to add smarter decision-making abilities in the enterprise software, machine learning, and computer vision arenas. Here’s the roundup:

Wrapping up the rest

There’s a giant snowstorm heading for the Northeast, so we’re wrapping up this week’s column to go find our shovels, ice scrapers, and warm winter gloves. Hope it’s warm where you are, but until then, here are the rest of this week’s transactions:

That’s it for this week – stay warm and stay cool, my friends!

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