Self-driving cars and trucks, as well as sensors, artificial intelligence, and other enabling technologies, rode off with the biggest investments in robotics and automation in 2020. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic affected automotive demand and manufacturing, vehicle startups continued to draw more funding than industrial automation, aerial drones, or healthcare systems.
The Robot Report has tracked more than 400 transactions worth a total of $26 billion in 2020 to date, compared with 384 worth about $45.8 billion in 2019. The pandemic can be blamed for the decline, but note that only seven companies announced shutdowns this year.
There were about 60 robotics mergers and acquisitions in 2020, compared with 86 in 2019. The total number of investments was closer, with 366 fundings as of late November, compared with 384 in the prior year.
While subtotals are not yet available, other noteworthy areas of automation receiving funding in 2020 included agricultural systems, components such as sensors and grippers, mobile robots for supply chains, and service robots for tasks such as customer service or food preparation.
Here are the top 10 robotics transactions of the past year:
10. Tie: Nuro, Didi Chuxing Nuro each raise $500M in 2020
In November 2020, Nuro raised $500 million in Series C funding, bringing its valuation to $5 billion. What makes Nuro different from other autonomous vehicle companies is that it has developed its R2 purely for transporting goods rather than people.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to test vehicles without the conventional features of passenger cars, such as side mirrors or a steering wheel.
In April, Nuro was one of the first two companies (along with Waymo) to get permission to conduct testing in California. It had previously raised $840 million in early 2019.
Didi has developed what it claimed is the first electric car designed specifically for ride-hailing services. It is working with AutoX and AutoNavi on robotaxis in Shanghai.
The company hopes to have 1 million vehicles with basic autonomous driving capabilities by 2025, said Cheng Wei, CEO of Didi Chuxing.
9. MicroPort MedBot sews up funding for laparoscopic robot
“MedBot has gradually formed a product portfolio of 3D electronic laparoscopy, [a] laparoscopic surgical robot, and [an] orthopedic surgical robot providing intelligent surgical solutions,” stated Martin Sun, chairman of MicroPort MedBot.
In October, the company announced a joint venture with France-based Robocath to develop and distribute vascular robotics in China.
8. Tesla borrows money for Shanghai factory
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla plans to use the funds from Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd. to build a production plant in Shanghai, its first outside the U.S.
In October, Tesla announced the limited rollout of its “full self-driving beta” release.
7. Luminar Technologies raises $590M in IPO after SPAC deal
Early this month, Luminar Technologies Inc., which has developed lidar sensors for autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS), raised $590 million in its initial public offering after merging with special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Gores Metropoulos Inc. in August.
Luminar received $170 million in the reverse merger. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said it planned to use the investment to bring its sensors, which were designed and built from the ground up, to high-volume production.
6. Hyundai Motor acquires Boston Dynamics in 2020
After weeks of speculation, Hyundai Motor Corp. this month announced its purchase of a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics Inc. for about $880 million. Hyundai is the legged robotics company’s third owner, after Google and SoftBank Group.
Waltham, Mass.-based Boston Dynamics has made strides in the past year (pun intended), commercializing its Spot quadruped, developing other systems such as Handle and Pick for supply chains, working with development partners and customers, and updating its software. The Hyundai acquisition was also The Robot Report‘s top news story of 2020.
Related content: The Robot Report Podcast: Boston Dynamics talks about its big year and acquisition by Hyundai