Robotics investments recap: July 2019

The Robot Report
Robotics investments recap: July 2019

In July 2019, CloudMinds filed for a $500 million IPO. Source: CloudMinds

In July 2019, the number of robotics transactions may have dropped, but the total amount increased. The Robot Report tracked more than $10.1 billion in deals worldwide, up from $1.1 billion in June 2019 and $1.6 billion in June 2018.

Multi-billion-dollar investments in Argo AI by Volkswagen and Open AI by Microsoft, as well as an offering from surgical robotics provider Medtronic, no doubt bumped up last month’s total. There were 21 fundings in July 2019, compared with 42 in the previous month and 27 a year ago. (See also the 20 largest robotics investments in the first half of 2019.)

Technology for self-driving cars and robots and intelligent systems in healthcare were the big winners in July 2019. They were followed by supply chain automation, software and artificial intelligence, and service and consumer robots.

There was little investment activity around robots for manufacturing, as automakers face slowing demand and recession worries persist. Teradyne Inc., which owns Danish cobot maker Universal Robots and Mobile Industrial Robot, cited the slowdown in its quarterly earnings call. China also reduced its investments, noted DealStreet Asia, and U.S. gross domestic product has slowed.

At the same time, venture capital activity hit new highs last quarter, according to PitchBook, and robotics stock values have increased, reported ROBO Global. SoftBank Group Corp.’s second Vision Fund of $108 billion includes Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. as investors looking for emerging technologies.

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

Company Amt. (M$) Type Lead investor, partner Date Technology
Activ Surgical 13 investment July 5, 2019 surgical robots
Argo AI 2600 investment Volkswagen AG July 11, 2019 self-driving cars
Attabotics 25 Series B Coatue, Comcast Ventures, Honeywell July 30, 2019 automated storage/retrieval system
CloudMinds Technology Inc. 500 IPO Citigroup, JP Morgan, IBS Investment Bank July 12, 2019 cloud-based AI for service robots
Connected Robotics Inc. 7.82 Series A Global Brain Corp. July 8, 2019 cooking robots
Emotix (RN Chidakashi Technologies Pvt. Ltd.) 2.7 seed IDG Ventures India Fund III, Chiratae Trust July 12, 2019 social robot
Exyn Technologies Inc. 16 Series A Centricus, Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley July 11, 2019 autonomous drones, robots
Fetch Robotics 46 Series C Fort Ross Ventures July 23, 2019 autonomous mobile robots
Freedom Robotics Inc. 6.6 seed Initialized Capital July 23, 2019 cloud-based fleet management
Gaiya Environmental 14.5 Series B Hongxin Capital July 18, 2019 pollution remediation
Geek+ Inc. 150 Series C1 GGV Capital, D1 Capital Partners July 10, 2019 autonomous mobile robots
iFlytek 407 investment China Asset Management July 18, 2019 AI, service robots
Luminar Technologies Inc. 100 investment G2VP July 11, 2019 lidar for self-driving cars
Medtronic 5000 tender offers July 11, 2019 surgical robots
MetoMotion 1.5 investment July 31, 2019 greenhouse robot
Neocis 30 investment Norwest Venture Partners July 16, 2019 surgical robots
OpenAI 1000 investment Microsoft Corp. July 22, 2019 Azure AI
Recogni Inc. 25 Series A GreatPoint Ventures July 31, 2019 self-driving cars
RoadBotics 7.5 Series A Radical Ventures July 16, 2019 self-driving cars
ROYBI 4.2 seed July 2, 2019 educational
Tier IV Inc. 100 Series A Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance July 5, 2019 self-driving cars
ZongMu Technology 14.57 Series C+ Qualcomm Ventures July 2, 2019 self-driving cars

There were eight mergers and acquisitions in July 2019, the same number as in June and more than occurred a year ago. We’ve also compiled a list of the top 10 most notable acquisitions of the year so far.

Company Amt. (M$) Partner, acquirer Date Technology
Atracys Smith & Nephew July 1, 2019 surgical robots
AutoLap 47 Great Belief International Ltd. July 10, 2019 laparoscopic surgery Velodyne Lidar Inc. July 23, 2019 self-driving cars
Melown Technologies Hexagon Geosystems July 1, 2019 machine vision
Quantum Signal AI Ford Motor Co. July 30, 2019 simulation software
Robin Autopilot Fahey Group July 8, 2019 robotic lawnmower
Schölly Fiberoptic Intuitive Surgical July 15, 2019 surgical robots

Autonomous vehicles keep revving up

As mentioned above, one of the top deals in July 2019 was Volkswagen’s $2.6 billion investment into Argo AI as part of its partnership with Ford Motor Corp. Argo AI, which will include Volkswagen’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving unit, will continue developing self-driving cars. Both automakers also have other deals with other robotics, AI, and autonomous systems companies.

Although massive numbers of self-driving cars aren’t quite around the corner for 2020, investors are supporting software and hardware development. In 2025, 8 million vehicles, with 36 million lidar units worth $7.2 billion, will ship with SAE Level 3 or 4 autonomy, predicts ABI Research. The total market for autonomous vehicles could reach $667.7 billion by 2026, it said.

Open-source self-driving software startup Tier IV Inc. raised $100 million in its Series A funding round, as did lidar maker Luminar Technologies Inc.

Yesterday, Toyota AI Ventures and BMW i Ventures participated in the $25 million Series A for Recogni Inc., which is using a “Vision Cognition Processor” for efficiently changing the trajectory of autonomous vehicles. RoadBotics closed a $7.5 million Series A as it develops computer vision for road assessment.

Also in navigation and machine vision, Velodyne Lidar Inc. acquired, and Hexagon Geosystems acquired Melown Technologies. Ford Motor Co. picked up simulation software firm Quantum Signal AI. No amounts were specified.

Processor makers are also interested in the race for autonomous transportation. Qualcomm Ventures and Lenovo Group’s Legend Capital participated in the $14.5 million Series C round for advanced driver assistance system company ZongMu Technology.

Surgical robots get cash infusion

Our sibling site Mass Device reported on the approximately $5 billion debt tender offer by Medtronic PLC, which sells the Mazor X and is working on a new surgical robot.

It was a long way down to the next biggest healthcare robotics transaction, Great Belief International Ltd.’s $47 million acquisition of AutoLap from TransEnterix Inc. AutoLap makes a laparoscopic surgical positioning system.

Neocis raised $30 million for its Yomi robot-assisted dental surgery device, and Activ Surgical raised $13 million for its Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot.

Other surgical robotics leaders were involved in deals with unspecified amounts in July 2019. Intuitive Surgical acquired Schölly Fiberoptic, and Smith & Nephew bought optical tracking camera maker Atracys.

Supply chain automation stays in the loop

China’s Geek+ Inc., whose autonomous mobile robots entered the U.S. market last year, raised $150 million in Series C1 funding.

More familiar to American warehouses, Fetch Robotics had a $46 million Series C.

Attabotics, which has developed a “3D supply chain system,” raised $25 million in its Series B round. (I spoke with Attabotics’ CEO today about his innovative approach and will post an article about our conversation soon.)

Service and consumer robots in July 2019

Admittedly, this category is a bit of a catchall this month, including robots for cleaning up pollution, securing facilities, and moving lawns. Still, the $500 million initial public offering (IPO) of CloudMinds Technology Inc., is nothing to dismiss. It is working on cloud-based AI to make service robots smarter and more useful.

iFlytek, which is working on speech recognition that could also be used in customer-service robots, raised $407 million.

In field robotics, Gaiya Environmental, whose robot is designed for pollution remediation, had a $14.4 million Series B round. Fahey Group acquired Robin Autopilot, which provides robotic lawn mowing and is moving from Dallas to Cleveland. MetoMotion raised $1.5 million from an unnamed Dutch partner for its Greenhouse Robotic Worker.

Also this past month, security robot maker Knightscope Inc. filed for an IPO. Global Brain Corp. participated in the $7.82 million Series A round for cooking robot business Connected Robotics Inc.

ROYBI, an AI-powered educational robot, got seed round support of $4.2 million as it gets ready for launch. Social robot maker Emotix raised seed funding of $2.7 million from IDG Ventures and others.

While it’s not a robotics transaction, iRobot Corp.’s announcement of reduced full-year guidance, which it blamed on U.S.-China trade tensions, is indicative of the challenges facing consumer robotics and other industries.

Software and AI in July 2019

Most technology analysts agree that artificial general intelligence is a ways off, but Microsoft is a believer, investing $1 billion in OpenAI, which will work in Microsoft’s Azure platform. The companies said they hope to develop AI for social benefit.

Freedom Robotics Inc., whose cloud-based software-development infrastructure is intended for fleet management and more, closed a $6.6 million seed round. The company’s founders explained that they’re working for wide-scale interoperability, putting power back in the hands of robotics developers and supervisors.

Freedom Robotics’ RMS combines robotics tools to help developers and robotics managers. Source: Freedom Robotics

Yamaha Motor Ventures was among the investors in Exyn Technologies Inc.’s $16 million Series A. Exyn is building autonomy software for aerial drones for the defense and energy industries.

The notable failure of July 2019 is the shutdown of Acutronic Robotics, which was developing a Hardware Robot Operating System and was unable to agree to an acquisition.

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

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