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April fundings, acquisitions and IPOs

May 2, 2016

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April was a big month for investing in robotics – 19 companies were funded to the tune of $175 million vs. $15.8M in January, $18.6M in February, and $45.4M in March. Four companies were acquired with 3 of the 4 reporting selling prices totaling $422 million.

Funding for drones

  • Zero Zero Robotics, a Beijing-based startup, raised $23 million in a Series A round. Backers included IDG, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund, Zuig and others. Zero Zero just unveiled their Hover Camera, a portable autonomous flying indoor or outdoor camera system, a neat fold-over book-like device. The company has a team of 70 in offices in San Francisco, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou, and intends to use the funds to market the new Hover Camera to the public.
  • SkySafe, a San Diego startup whose technology can disable drones that are flying where they shouldn’t, has raised $3 million in seed funding. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, with participation from Founder Collective and SV Angel. The FAA estimates there will be 2.5 million drones sold in the U.S. this year, hence the need to establish boundaries and identify and perhaps disable those that trespass.
  • uAvionix, a Palo Alto-based developer of aviation communication, navigation and real-time sense and avoid systems, has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Playground Global, the VC firm headed by Andy Rubin of Android and Google's robot acquisitions fame. 
  • Precision Hawk, previously WineHawk Labs, a Raleigh, NC-based fixed-wing drone provider, raised $19+ million in a Series C round of venture funding to focus their efforts towards a wide range of commercial purposes. Precision Hawk was known as the maker of the Lancaster fixed-wing drones for farmers. New investors include: Verizon Ventures, USAA, NTT Docomo Ventures, Yamaha Motor Ventures, and Dupont Pioneer, the ag division of Dupont.

Precision Hawk CEO Bob Young said, “Building and selling planes will arguably be the smallest part of our business. Our biggest opportunity and the faster growing part of our business is the platform we built for aerial data services.

At DuPont Pioneer, we're driving a new era of agriculture productivity that enables farmers to increase profitability and sustainability through data-driven insights,” said Neal Gutterson, DuPont Pioneer Vice President of R&D. “The deepening of our relationship with Precision Hawk is an important part of the Pioneer digital agriculture platform strategy, as well as our Encirca℠ services offering. Our goal is to provide growers valuable prediction-based product placement insights by incorporating elite genetics, agronomic management and environmental variation analysis into our already successful prediction-based breeding program.

  • ACSL (Autonomous Control Systems Lab), a Chiba University spinoff, is a robot-, drone- and map-making startup which raised $6.4 million from UTEC and Rakuten (a snack and drink provider). Funds will be used to scale up to handle delivering drinks and snacks on golf courses using drones.
  • Shenzhen Chi Tech (PraFly), based in Shenzhen, develops intelligent control system solutions for robotic applications including restaurant server robots. PraFly received $8 million from Intel. Other PraFly products are used in energy management, in-vehicle systems, intelligent couriers, intelligent manufacturing, smart kitchens and driving training.
  • Airmap, a Santa Monica, CA provider of airspace info for airports and drone operators, got $15 million for a Series A funding led by General Catalyst Partners.
  • SlantRange, a San Diego startup that provides sensors, computer vision and analytics to the agriculture industry, has raised $5 million in Series A funding from The Investor Group, a San Diego-based investor group, a large family-owned agriculture company in the Mid-West, and a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. SlantRange sells sensors and licenses its analytics software. The sensors cost around $3k but the majority of the revenue will come from the software sales.

Funding for autonomous vehicles

  • Bossa Nova Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based developer of B2B mobile robotic technology, has raised $14 million in Series A funding led by WRV Capital. Funds will be used to deploy its mobile robots in retail stores for inventory taking.

Bossa Nova addresses a multi-billion dollar opportunity within the retail marketplace, and is a technology that can be immediately deployed by major retail chains,” said WRV’s Nic Brathwaite. “The product has already proven successful in stores and integrates seamlessly with existing inventory management systems.

  • Dispatch.ai, a SF-based startup offering a 150-pound delivery robot, got $2 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Precursor Ventures. The new “Carry” robot has 4 compartments and can carry a total of 100 pounds. The vehicle can do multiple deliveries per trip. Carry is connected to a 4G network for location tracking. Pilot programs are ongoing at Menlo College and CA State U Monterey Bay to deliver students their mail, packages and other things. Students can track Carry’s location and get notified when it arrives. Once the robot rolls up, students can unlock and access their package using their phone.
  • Auro Robotics, a San Francisco-based autonomous campus shuttle service, has raised $2 million in Series A funding. Motus Ventures led the round, and was joined by Rothenberg Ventures. Auro's driverless shuttles can be used on university campuses, in retirement communities and at resorts.
  • Drive.ai, a Silicon Valley AI startup founded by former graduate students out of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, is using deep learning methods to provide solutions for autonomous vehicles from perception to motion planning to control. Drive.ai got $12 million in equity funding from undisclosed sources. (Drive.ai is not to be confused with DriveAI, a NJ non-profit working on similar activities and funded by an insurance company.)
  • Comma.ai, a San Francisco startup headed by George Hotz, the hacker who, at age 17, was the first person to unlock an iPhone, and at 21, cracked the encryption schema on the PlayStation3, got $3 million in funding from Andressen Horowitz and others for his plans to produce a self-learning, self-driving kit for under $1,000 and deliver that kit by the end of 2016.
  • Nauto, a Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle technology startup, has raised $12 million. Playground Global and Draper Nexus were the funders. Andy Rubin's new incubator Playground, is funding hardware startups like Nauto to build automotive networking and safety features for self-driving cars. One particularly valuable technology Nauto is developing is similar to airline black boxes: stored sensor and visual data to help fleet managers and insurance companies detect and understand the cause of accidents and reduce liability claims.

Miscellaneous funding

  • Primo Toys, a London-based startup, got $1.6 million from their Kickstarter campaign for their Cubetto coding/robot system for kids. 6,553 backers contributed.
  • LifeRobotics, a Tokyo-based research company founded in 2007, got $4.4 million in Series A funding for their new slickly designed one-armed collaborative robot.
  • Aloi Solutions, a Rochester, NY-based integrator/distributor of material handling and automation solutions, has gone through a recapitalization done by Wincove Partners. Although no financial terms were disclosed, recaps are a type of corporate reorganization involving substantial change in a company's capital structure and usually involve a large part of equity getting replaced with debt, or vice versa.
  • Desktop Metal, a Lexington, MA-based industrial 3D metals printing startup, has raised $33.76 million in second-round funding, according to an SEC filing. Backers include NEA, Kleiner Perkins and Lux Capital.
  • Disruptive Technologies, a Norway-based developer of wireless sensors for a variety of automation uses including IoT, has raised $6.15 million in new equity funding from Ubon Partners, an Oslo/European investment company.

Acquisitions

  • Paslin, a Warren, MI integrator of welding robots and manufacturer of automation tooling, was acquired by Chinese company Wanfeng Technology Group for $302 million. Paslin has developed and sold assembly and welding robot application systems 1937. Wanfeng, founded in 1994, has businesses in such fields as auto parts manufacturing, robots and intelligent equipment, magnesium alloy and financial investments, with annual sales of $3 billion.
  • Power Automation Systems, a California material handling AGV provider, was acquired by Swisslog, a KUKA Robotics company, for an undisclosed amount. Last year, in a similar effort to strengthen its mobile material handling presence, Swisslog acquired Forte, a warehouse automation system integrator. 
  • Retrotech was acquired by the Kion Group via it’s Egemin Automation subsidiary, for $40 million. Retrotech is a NY-based material handling integrator employing 140 people with annual sales of ~$70 million in 2015. Note that Kion acquired Egemin in 2015 for ~$82 million.

This deal is an important step on our journey to becoming a leading player in the fast-growing market for automated logistics and material flow systems, Gordon Riske, chief executive officer of the Kion Group said, in a statement. Automated intralogistics will play a crucial role in Industry 4.0, the digital transformation of manufacturing.

  • Hansen Medical and Auris Surgical Robotics, both surgical robot providers, signed a definitive merger agreement under which Auris will acquire Hansen for $80 million. In addition, certain significant stockholders of Hansen Medical have agreed to invest approximately $49 million into Auris upon the closing of the transaction.

Hansen Medical has developed a technology leadership position in the field of intravascular robotics,” commented Dr. Fred Moll, Chief Executive Officer of Auris. “There remains a significant opportunity in flexible robotics and I am excited to combine with Hansen Medical to advance this market.

We are pleased with this outcome, which we believe maximizes value for our shareholders. The combined capabilities of Auris and Hansen Medical will accelerate the proliferation of medical robotics to advance patient care, said Cary Vance, President and CEO of Hansen Medical.

IPOs

  • None. Zip. Nada. Private placements and increased investment from hedge funds, mutual funds and via corporate acquisitions appears to have dried up the robotics IPO pipeline.
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series... read more



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