Robotics investments recap: January 2020

robotics startups in January 2020

A mobile robot from Berkshire Grey, which raised funding in January 2020. Source: Berkshire Grey

In January 2020, reported transactions among robotics, drone, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence companies totaled $1.16 billion. There were fewer deals around self-driving vehicles than in the past several months, but investors still supported supply chain, surgical systems, and agricultural automation.

By comparison,The Robot Report and sibling site Robotics Business Review reported $1.9 billion in transactions in December 2019, and $644 million in January 2019. The number of investments climbed to 40 last month, compared with 25 in the previous month and 25 a year ago.

At the same time, the world’s biggest robotics makers — ABB, FANUC, KUKA, and Yaskawa — reported slowdowns for the year. ABB Group said that orders for robotics and discrete automation dropped 18% to $732 million in earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization (EBITA).

Zurich-based ABB noted that orders declined by 11%, reflecting “softening global economic and substantial headwinds in discrete markets, particularly automotive and machine builders,” as well as in China.

January 2020 headwinds

Source: ABB

“Although sales increased both for the automobile industry and for the general industries in Japan and remained solid in the Americas, sales in China and Europe, both for the automobile industry and for the general industries, remained sluggish,” stated Japan-based FANUC Corp.

KUKA AG’s net income growth fell by 85.65% year over year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Germany-based KUKA is owned by China’s Midea Group. Japan-based Yaskawa Electric Corp. noted that the decline in industrial automation demand from China has been narrowing for the past few quarters, so the outlook for 2020 might be brighter.

The table below lists fundings in millions of U.S. dollars, where amounts were publicly available:

Robotics investments, January 2020

CompanyAmt. (M$)TypeLead investor, partnerDateTechnology
Abundant Robotics Inc.investmentKubota Corp.Jan. 9harvesting robot
Airlook14Series B+GF QianheJan. 163D drone mapping
AirWorks Solutions Inc.1.4equityJan. 2AI modeling
AutoFlightXinvestmentTDK VenturesJan. 30drone deliveries
AutoX Technologies Inc.pre-Series BShenzhen Qianhai Hongzhao FundJan. 20autonomous vehicles
Bear Robotics Inc.32Series ASoftBankJan. 22robot waiters
Berkshire Grey263Series BSoftBank, Khosla Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, CanaanJan. 21pick and place
Clobotics10pre-Series BTiger Management FundJan. 17computer vision
Converge0.75seedJan. 25AI drone software
Covariantemerged from stealthJan. 29AI, machine vision
DFRobot1.42Series BCash CapitalJan. 3educational robotics
Dimension RoboticsSeries BJan. 23educational, rehab robots
Draganfly Inc.IPOJan. 9aerial drones
DroneUp0.75early stage VCThe Center for Innovative TechnologyJan. 7drone pilot management
Fieldwork Robotics Ltd.0.393share sale, loanFrontier IPJan. 14fruit-picking robot
Hesai Technology173Series CLightspeed China Partners, BoschJan. 8lidar
InahoinvestmentJan. 23harvesting robot
Inertial Sense LLCinvestmentJan. 27navigation systems
Invento Makerspaces0.281secondaryA91 PartnersJan. 20humanoid service robot
Kneron73Series AHorizons VenturesJan. 23edge processing
MatternetSeries A2McKesson VenturesJan. 15drone deliveries
Microbot Medical9stock saleJan. 6disposable surgical system
Misty Robotics2.2investmentShea VenturesJan. 23personal robots
Naio Technologies SAS15.57Series APymwymic/BPIFranceJan. 9weeding robots
NextNav LLC120equity saleFortress Investment GroupJan. 15indoor navigation
Percipio XYZSeries A+Pan-Lin Asset ManagementJan. 1machine vision
Red Dot DroneinvestmentTaiwan Sports Innovation AcceleratorJan. 17drone autonomy
Red Mountain Scientific0.25angelJan. 8drone inspections
RoboK Ltd.investmentJan. 7AI robot controls
Rovco6.5investmentForesight Williams Technology EIS FundJan. 14ROVs, computer vision
Skilancer SolarinvestmentVenture CatalystsJan. 8solar panel cleaning robot
Skyqraft AB0.505investmentAntlerJan. 13drone inspections
Soft Robotics Inc.23Series BCalibrate Ventures, Material Impact, FANUCJan. 20soft grippers
SurgitecinvestmentJan. 14surgical robots
Trifo Inc.15Series BYidu Cloud, Tshinghua AI Fund, Matrix PartnersJan. 2robotic vacuum
Vecna Robotics50Series BBlackhorn VenturesJan. 7autonomous lifts
Virtual Incision Corp.20Series BBluestem CapitalJan. 8surgical robots
Voliro AG0.051investmentESA BIC SwitzerlandJan. 23drone inspections
Yuanda Robotics GmbH22Series A+Shenyang Yuanda Aluminum Industry GroupJan. 28collaborative robots
ZAP Surgical Systems Inc.81equity financingPrimavera Capital GroupJan. 8surgical robots

There were seven robotics acquisitions in January 2020, compared with nine in December 2019 and five in January 2019. See also our roundup of the largest mergers and acquisitions from the past year. Here are the past month’s deals:

Robotics acquisitions, January 2020

CompanyAmt. (M$)Acquirer, partnerDateTechnology
Andrew Alliance SAWaters Corp.Jan. 13laboratory automation
Dronelogics Systems Inc.1.5Draganfly Inc.Jan. 16aerial drones
eMotion Controls Co.Material Handling Solutions Inc.Jan. 23motion control
Interob SLJenoptik GroupJan. 27industrial automation
QfeelTech30JS Global LifestyleJan. 8AI, home robots
Tokyo Robotics Inc.Yamaha Motor Co.Jan. 21cobots
Xnor.ai200Apple Inc.Jan. 15machine learning

Components and software get funding in January 2020

The biggest acquisition last month was Apple’s $200 million purchase of Xnor.AI, which has developed machine learning algorithms that can run on edge devices without relying on the cloud. The Seattle-based startup’s image-recognition models are intended to enable robots, smart-home devices, and more to use onboard processors. Apple also terminated Xnor’s participation in Project Maven, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze military drone data.

Also in January 2020, AirWorks Solutions Inc. raised $1.4 million in equity funding for its AI modeling software. U.K.-based RoboK raised an unspecified amount for robot control software, and Covariant, which is developing AI for warehouse and other robots, emerged from stealth.

Making robots smarter and more independent was also a trend in hardware investments. Lidar maker Hesai Technology closed a Series C round of $173 million, one of the largest in its space.

NextNav raised $120 million in an equity sale for its indoor navigation system, which does not rely on GPS. Kneron received $40 million in Series A funding for its design and development of hardware and software for edge AI.

Computer vision firm Clobotics raised $10 million, while Percipio XYZ (also known as Shanghai Tuyang Information Technology Co.) secured an unspecified Series A+ for its 3D machine vision offering. Material Handling Systems Inc. acquired onetime partner eMotion Controls Co.

Outdoor or field robotics can also benefit from technology improvements. Inertial Sense received investment for its navigation system in January 2020.

AutoX Technologies, which is developing Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology, raised “tens of millions” of dollars in a pre-Series B round. It also partnered with Chrysler on robotic taxicab services in China, California, and other locations.

Although self-driving vehicle companies received billions of dollars in the past year, the road to full autonomy can be winding. For instance, Starsky Robotics has had difficulty raising funds and is reportedly looking for a buyer.

Agricultural robots and drones have an early spring

Speaking of fields, farming robot and aerial drone companies received a total of about $16 million each in January 2020. Escalquens, France-based Naio Technologies SA raised $15.57 million in Series A funding for its weeding robots, while Plymouth, U.K.-based Fieldwork Robotics Ltd. sold $393,000 in shares for its raspberry-picking robots.

While it’s not yet planting season, let alone harvest time in the Northern Hemisphere, robotics investors are looking ahead at labor shortages. Equipment provider Kubota Corp. invested in Abundant Robotics Inc., which offers harvesting services and is developing an apple-picking robot. Japan-based Inaho also raised money for its harvesting robot.

On the drone side, Beijing-based Airlook raised $14 million in Series B+ funding for its 3D drone mapping systems. Draganfly Inc. acquired fellow drone inspection firm Dronelogics Systems Inc. for $1.5 million and announced an initial public offering.

DroneUp received $750,000 for drone pilot management software, and Converge got $750,000 for its AI-driven software to help drone “service providers and customers automate and integrate drones into their existing workflows.” Converge cited a PTC prediction that the commercial drone market will grow to $58.3 billion.

Drones are particularly useful for industrial and infrastructure inspections. Skyqraft AB received $505,000 from Antler and others for its power-line inspecting drones. Red Mountain Scientific raised $250,000 in angel funding for its drones, which use AI and the cloud to inspect wind turbines and cellular towers. Voliro AG raised $51,000 from a Swiss incubator for its inspection and monitoring drones.

India-based Skilancer Solar raised an unspecified amount for its solar panel-cleaning robots.

Red Dot Drone got funding from Taiwan Sports Innovation Accelerator for its consumer drone autonomy technology.

Supply chain robots grab more money in January 2020

Supply chain and logistics automation, from order fulfillment through delivery, received $286 million in January 2020. The largest robotics investment last month was Berkshire Grey’s $263 million Series B. The Lexington, Mass.-based company is developing pick-and-place robots.

Also in Massachusetts, Vecna Robotics closed a $50 million Series B round for mobile materials handling, and Soft Robotics Inc. raised $23 million in Series B funding for its compliant and modular gripper systems.

Drone delivery companies raised an unspecified amount in January 2020, with TDK Ventures supporting AutoFlightX, and McKesson Ventures supporting Matternet. AutoFlightX is developing electric air taxis that can also be used for unmanned deliveries, while Matternet is initially focusing on medical applications.

Healthcare systems get funding last month

Last month, surgical robotics companies received a reported $110 million in funding. ZAP Surgical Systems Inc., which is developing a radiosurgical robot for non-invasive ablation of brain tumors, received $81 million in equity financing.

Series B funding of $20 million will help Virtual Incision Corp. submit its MIRA minimally invasive surgical system to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.

Microbot Medical sold nearly $9 million in stock in January 2020 for its disposable robotic system, which is designed for multiple procedures. Shenzhen, China-based Surgitec raised an unspecified amount for its surgical devices, and Waters Corp. acquired laboratory automation provider Andrew Alliance SA.

Service robotics have ups and downs in January 2020

In January 2020, SoftBank Group participated in the $32 million Series A for robot waiter company Bear Robotics Inc.

SoftBank has been invested in numerous robotics businesses, including Berkshire Grey, but recipients CafeX, Zume Pizza, and CloudMinds have laid off staffers because of ongoing difficulties with developing successful food and humanoid robots.

Still, expectations are high for such robots. India-based Invento Makerspaces raised $281,000 for its humanoid service robots in January 2020.

The Misty II robot is both a personal assistant and a development platform, and Misty Robotics raised $2.2 million. Dimension Robotics, which offers robots for education and rehabilitation, raised unspecified Series B funding.

Trifo Inc. raised Series B funding of $15 million and launched “Lucy,” a security and vacuum robot. In industrial cleaning, Rovco raised $6.5 million for its remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for undersea operation and inspection of wind turbines and oil and gas rigs.

China-based DFRobot raised $1.42 million for its educational and development robot. JS Global Lifestyle acquired machine vision startup QfeelTech to become an innovation leader in household robots and smart devices. iRobot Corp., a leader in household robotics, reported positive financial results for 2019.

Bright spots in industrial automation

As noted above, robotics companies that serve manufacturing have been dealing with weakened demand, particularly in automotive and aerospace verticals. But not all manufacturing robotics news was bad in January 2020.

Collaborative robots are still a growing segment within industrial automation, as Teradyne’s new headquarters for Universal Robots A/S and Mobile Industrial Robots ApS in Denmark demonstrated.

German-Chinese partnership Yuanda Robootics GmbH raised $22 million in January 2020 for its collaborative robots, and Yamaha Motor Co. acquired Waseda University spinoff and cobot maker Tokyo Robotics Inc.

Jenoptik Group bought Spain-based Interob SL, which designs and builds systems for smart manufacturing.

For more information on recent robotics deals, visit Robotics Business Review‘s transactions database.


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.

Verification
Funding information is collected from a number of public and private sources. These include press releases from corporations and investment groups, corporate briefings, industry analysts such as PitchBook, 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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