Robot Investments Weekly: Zume Pizza Earns Extra Dough From SoftBank

Robotics Business Review

If you’re a startup looking to earn some extra dough, it helps if you’re a company using robots to make pizza. Zume Pizza scored big this week, as did a bunch of other companies in the robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems space.

Today, we’re highlighting 23 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.

If you’re an RBR Insider, don’t forget to check out the Q3 Transactions Report, which showcases and analyzes major investments from July through September 2018. It’s free for Insider subscribers to Robotics Business Review.

SoftBank drops a lot of extra cheese on Zume Pizza

Earlier this year, rumors circulated that SoftBank was interested in investing up to $750 million in Zume Pizza, the startup that’s shaking up the pizza industry with its robotics-enabled pizza kitchen and delivery truck service for Silicon Valley residents. In the same week that Pizza Hut and Toyota announced their “mobile pizza factory” vehicle that uses a robot arm to prepare pizza, the Wall Street Journal reported that SoftBank would be investing $375 million in Zume, based on a SEC Form D filing.

Alex Garden CEO Zume Piza

Alex Garden, Zume Pizza CEO

The article indicates that SoftBank was expected to invest another $375 million, which would match the $750 million cited in earlier articles, but this was not yet confirmed.

Regardless of the amount, the investment indicates clear interest in expanding Zume beyond the Bay Area, and that robots and pizza will be linked in the future, whether they’re used for food preparation or delivery.

AI investment landscape cuts far and wide

Every week, I do a quick wrapup of companies that received funding for artificial intelligence, regardless of whether they’re involved in the robotics or industrial space. We’ve heard from people who joke that a good way to get a 10x investment in your company is to add the word “AI” to your pitch, and it’s probably not too far from the truth. Startups explaining their concept seem to be adding AI as an adjective a lot to their product descriptions these days.

But still, there were so many investments this week in companies using the AI moniker, that I thought I’d talk about AI investments higher up in the column.

  • Validere announced raising $7 million in seed funding for its AI-based oil and gas Internet of Things (IoT) platform. The Toronto-based company lets companies schedule field measurement activities and third-party lab samples, giving them more insight and to detect off-spec shipments in advance.
  • In the healthcare space, AI is taking off for disease detection, analysis, and even drug discovery. H1 announced raising $6 million to expand its AI-based research tools that can search across more than 250,000 academic research, 250,000 clinical trials, 50 million journal articles, and 750,000 clinicians and physicians.
  • Similarly, Visla Labs announced raising $3 million in seed funding. The company is developing an AI-based medical diagnostics platform for radiology purposes. In its announcement, the company said in one test with a partner, Visla “enabled 50% fewer missed diseases while automating 80% of healthy diagnosis.
  • Switching from diagnosis to doctor’s visit, a startup called 98point6 announced raising $50 million to expand its AI-based virtual doctor visit platform. The system utilizes a smartphone app to let patients answer questions about their symptoms, which are then forwarded to medical professionals for further analysis and follow-up.
  • AppZen announced raising $35 million for its AI-based auditing tool aimed at enterprises who deal with lots of expense reports and other financing contracts.
  • In the U.K., LoopMe announced raising $17 million for an AI-based advertising tool.
  • Conversica raised $31 million to expand its conversational AI tool, aimed at sales professionals.
  • Klydo raised $1.28 million for an AI-based “innovation research tool”, aimed at consumer branding and marketers.

So, you see, AI can be used to describe almost any new product. You’ve been warned.

Robot firms earn funding, merge with others

A bunch of robotics firms made some noise in recent weeks, on the hardware and software side.

Micropsi Industries, which develops a robot control system for robotic arms, announced closing $6.08 million in Series A funding. The company’s Mirai system includes a controller box, camera, and sensors, that enable robot arms to learn skills that would be harder to program or engineer. The company said that with Mira, industrial robots can be trained to handle more complex tasks in days instead of weeks via programming.

NextShift Robotics, a Lowell, Mass.-based mobile robot company aiming to help warehouses with e-commerce fulfillment efforts, raised almost $396,000 in an equity sale, according to a Form D SEC filing.

In the mergers and acquisitions space, China robotics firm Jiangsu Hagong Intelligent Robot Co. Ltd. announced it would acquire Nimak GmBH, a German company that manufactures advanced welding tools and machines for automotive, aircraft, and household appliance production. The deal would be worth approximately $100 million, but is still subject to review by the German government.

Back in the U.S., two companies in New England are joining forces. Textron Inc., based in Providence, R.I., is acquiring Westboro, Maine-based Howe & Howe Technologies, for its off-road and robotic vehicles. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

VR, AR remain hot

Moving to the augmented reality and virtual reality space, FundamentalVR announced raising $1.4 million to grow its virtual surgery platform that trains medical professionals.

LetinAR smart glasses extra dough article robot investments

LetinAR, a Korean startup developing a new optical solution for augmented reality (AR) smart glasses, recently raised $3.6 million in Series A funding.

South Korean firm LetinAR, which makes components for augmented reality smart glasses, announced raising $3.6 million for further development. Check out the cool video to see what its technology does for the smart glasses.

More money for autonomous cars, aerial vehicles

Companies continuing development of equipment for autonomous cars and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) continued in recent weeks. Lidar maker Quanergy Systems announced an undisclosed funding amount, but said it has passed a $2 billion valuation with the latest round.

DeepMap, which earned funding earlier this year, announced an additional investor for its HD mapping tool aimed at autonomous vehicle manufacturers. Generation Investment Management said it was now investing in the company, which develops high-definition mapping, real-time localization, and the serving infrastructure to support global scaling.

DeepMap visualizations HD mapping extra dough article robots investments

Source: DeepMap

Alliance Ventures, a joint venture between automakers Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi, announced it would be the lead strategic investor of WeRide.AI, a Chinese autonomous driving focused on a Level 4 self-driving ride-hailing service. The company plans to deploy a fleet of 500 autonomous vehicles next year, with commercialization trials in Guangzhou and Anqing.

Moving from the ground to the air, Israeli firm Airobotics raised $30 million to expand development of its autonomous drone platform. The company recently launched a U.S. headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., and plans to further scale its operations in the U.S. and Australia. It is aiming its services to the mining and industrial facilities space.

The U.S. military continues to fund unmanned system development and support for those machines. General Atomics earned a $192.6 million contract for logistics support around the Gray Eagle unmanned combat aerial vehicle. In addition, the U.S. Air Force awarded a $23.6 million contract to AAI Corp. to provide support force protection efforts at airfields within the U.S. Air Forces Central Command. This includes operating unmanned aerial systems, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

Wrapping up the rest

Whew, what a week – between the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series, and Halloween tricks and treats, it’s been a busy time up here at RBR headquarters. We’re going to mention two more noteworthy transactions:

  • UFACTORY has succeeded in its Kickstarter campaign for its latest low-cost robot arm system.
  • Kinetic raised seed round funding to further develop its wearable device that helps human employees prevent injuries while they’re working. It’s not quite yet an exoskeleton, but it feels like the data that the clip-on device records is something that could certainly be used on a worker-enhanced exoskeleton or device.

Speaking of exoskeletons, mark your calendars for a webcast that we’re doing with maxon motor around its new exoskeleton joint actuator. The webcast is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. ET. It’s hosted by me!

Until then, have a great weekend and we’ll see you here next week.

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