February 2017 fundings, acquisitions and IPOs
by Frank Tobe
February fundings for 16 robotics-related startups totaled over $313 million – another solid month for the new year. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with Ford’s acquisition of Argo and Midea Group’s purchase of Servotronix. Plus there were two IPOs.
- CloudMinds, a Chinese startup developing cloud-intelligence-based services for robotics and other application areas, raised $100 million in a Series A funding round. Although no funder information was provided, seed financing was provided by SoftBank, Foxconn, Walden International and Keytone Ventures.
- Desktop Metal, a 3D metal printing startup based in Burlington, Mass., is gearing up to take its first product into production and raised $45 million from GV, BMW I Ventures and Lowe’s Ventures. The company has now raised a total of $97 million. Other investors include NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lux Capital, GE Ventures, Saudi Aramco, and Stratasys.
- Xenex Disinfection Services, a San Antonio maker of mobile robots for the healthcare industry, raised $38 million in funding. Essex Woodlands led the round, and was joined by Piper Jaffray Merchant Banking, Malin Corporation, and Tectonic Ventures.
- Makeblock, a Chinese platform for making DIY robotics kits, raised around $29 million in Series B funding according to Bloomberg. Funders include Sequoia Capital and Hax. Makeblock products are used by more than 600,000 people, with more than 60 percent of its revenue generated from overseas.
- AirMap, a Los Angeles startup developing a traffic management platform for drones, raised $26 million from Microsoft Ventures, Airbus, Qualcomm, Rakuten, Sony and Yuneec. AirMap provides real-time traffic management software for 80% of the world’s drones, from all sorts of manufacturers, allowing drones and their controllers to share data needed to fly safely at low altitudes.
- Dedrone, a Germany-based provider of DroneTracker, a software hardware scanner which, in combination with an RF sensor, is able to detect drones and remote controls by their radio frequency (RF) signatures, secured $15 million in a Series B funding led by John Chambers, Executive Chairman of Cisco and Felicis Ventures. Dedrone can set up around cities where major events are scheduled, so the company often works with federal and city governments to monitor airspace. Its technology was used to detect drones, for example, over Davos, and two presidential debates.
- ZongMu Technology, a Shanghai self-driving car control systems startup, got $14.5 million in a Series B funding led by Legend Capital with additional funding from another Xiamen-based VC.
- TerrAvion, a San Leandro, Calif.-based provider of aerial imagery services for farmers, raised $10 million in Series A funding. Merus Capital led the round, and was joined by Promus Ventures, Initialized Capital, and 10x Group. TerrAvion offers farmers images from 12 flights over their land per growing season for as little as $4 an acre. These images provide a low-cost alternative to drone imagery and a higher resolution than satellite imagery.
- TetraVue, a San Diego, CA-based LiDAR and 3D camera technology company, raised $10 million in Series A funding. Robert Bosch Venture Capital and Nautilus Venture Partners led the round, with participation from Samsung Catalyst Fund and Foxconn. The funding will enable TetraVue to bring its Ultra High Definition, Solid State Flash LIDAR to the autonomous car industry, and to be one of the first in the new Vision for Things (VfT) marketplace.
- Synapticon, a Germany-based provider of control systems for mobile, service and industrial robots, raised around $9 million in scale-up funding led by 7 Industries Holdings (NL) and also HTGF High-Tech and MBG.
“Demand has exploded over the past two years. We benefit from the trend towards automation and robotics, especially in Asia. We succeeded in gaining important key customers around the world,” says Nikolai Ensslen, founder and CEO of Synapticon. “Many manufacturers of robots and similar machines have developed products based on our control and drive systems. These are now gradually going into series production, which means that we now have to increase our resources sustainably.”
- Intuition Robotics, an Israeli developer of social-companion robots, raised $6 million from iRobot and OurCrowd. With the funding, the Jerusalem-based company plans to open an office in the Bay Area and begin testing ElliQ with senior citizens in San Francisco. ElliQ is made up of an interactive robot attached to a tablet and was built to help older adults age in place, while keeping them engaged, active, and connected to the outside world.
- Exyn Technologies, a spin-out from the U of Penn, raised around $3.4 million in seed financing from IP Group, a VC specializing in tech transfer opportunities from major universities. Exyn develops fully autonomous aerial robot systems with multi-modal sensing capabilities and was founded by Dr. Vijay Kumar, the former Director of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception (GRASP) Laboratory at the U of Penn.
- Evollve Ozobot, a Southern California educational robot kit toy startup, raised $3 million in Series A venture funding to ramp up production of the Ozobot, and to develop new features and content to reach even more kids in the U.S., France and South Korea. Tribeca Venture Partners led and was joined by unnamed venture firms and angel investors, including ZICO coconut water founder Mark Rampolla. Another helper is a licensing tie-in with Disney’s Marvel Avengers. The company sells toppers kids can affix to their robots, changing the way the Ozobot sounds and moves when attached.
Rampolla said about his investment in Ozobot: “[They’ve] got Ozobot built and into more than 3,000 schools with limited resources from some friends and family funding. They’ve had a really amazing response from teachers around the country already. And this funding just helps expand on that early success.”
- PerceptIn, a Silicon Valley A.I. startup, raised an undisclosed amount of funding in a Series A round led by Matrix Partners China. Walden International and TEEC Angel Fund also participated in the round. According to an announcement by Matrix Partners, the funding is worth $2 to $3 million.
- BluHaptics, a Seattle telerobotics startup, got $1.36 million in Series A funding led by Seattle Angel Fund with additional funds from Seattle’s Alliance of Angels. BluHaptics software enables operators to interact with and control remote robots in dangerous and unpredictable environments.
- Airware, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based platform for developing and operating drones, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Caterpillar Ventures and eight others.
- Argo AI, a Pittsburgh startup, has sold a majority share of their company to Ford Motor Co. which has agreed to invest $1 billion over 5 years. Bryan Salesky, previously with Google’s self-driving team, and Peter Rander, previously with Uber’s, will head up the new company. Argo AI plans to develop a software platform backbone for Ford’s fully autonomous vehicle and are planning on making that platform a working reality by 2021. They are working with the City of Pittsburgh to establish a work facility, finding office space, and hiring up to 200 engineers and CS professionals. Until this transaction, Ford’s investments in future transportation technology have been relatively modest, eg, $75 million last year to buy a minority stake in Velodyne, a manufacturer of laser-based LiDAR sensing systems and $6.6 million in Civil Maps, also last year, a Berkeley, CA startup working on AI-powered mapping for self-driving cars.
“The next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” Ford President and CEO Mark Fields said in a statement. “As Ford expands to be an auto and a mobility company, we believe that investing in Argo AI will create significant value for our shareholders by strengthening Ford’s leadership in bringing self-driving vehicles to market in the near term and by creating technology that could be licensed to others in the future.”
- ABB, one of the Big Four of robot makers, acquired NUB3D, a Spanish startup making digital 3D inspection and QC components using white-light scanning sensor technologies. Financial details were not disclosed. ABB and NUB3D already partnered to introduce two fully robotized inspection solutions for off- and in-line inspection.
- Verizon bought Skyward, a Portland, OR startup which has developed fleet management software for drones, for an undisclosed amount. Verizon Ventures was an investor in the company’s seed round. The company will operate under Verizon’s IoT portfolio.
“Last quarter we announced our strategy to drive innovation and widespread adoption for in-flight wireless connectivity through our Airborne LTE Operations initiative, a new service to simplify certification and connectivity of wireless drones. This acquisition is a natural progression of our core focus on operating in innovative, high-growth markets, leveraging our network, scale, fleet management, device management, data analytics and security enablement capabilities and services to simplify the drone industry and help support the adoption of IoT,” said Mike Lanman, Verizon SVP Enterprise Products and IoT.
- Servotronix, an Israeli motion control and automation systems company, was acquired by Midea Group of China (the same company that bought KUKA last year) for $170 million. Servotronix, founded in 1987, develops and manufactures comprehensive and high performance motion control solutions, ranging from advanced encoders, servo drives, and multi-axis motion controllers, for a wide variety of industries including industrial robots, electronics assembly, semiconductor, machine tools and medical equipment.
“This alliance will provide Servotronix with significant leverage for our global operations and put Servotronix in a leadership position in the field of robotics, control and automation, with China being a major market in this field,” said Dr. Ilan Cohen, president, CEO and founder of Servotronix.
Two crowdfunded IPOs under Reg A+ of the SEC – the new rules under the JOBS Act allowing private companies to raise up to $50 million via crowdfunding technology:
- Myomo, a Cambridge, MA upper limbs exoskeleton startup, has filed for a Reg A+ IPO of $15 million. Banq is the issuer and service provider.
- Knightscope, a Silicon Valley security systems and robotics startup, also filed for a $20 million Reg A+ IPO and, according to SeedInvest, the issuer and service provider, is 2/3 of the way there with pledges.
, Frank Tobe
, robotic startups
, The Robot Report