We have reported 37 equity fundings and 25 acquisitions so far this year. It’s not just the car companies searching for talent and innovation in their new Silicon Valley centers. Israel, Russia, China and big companies like Bosch, SoftBank, Apple and Google are all investing in robotics for various strategic reasons.
Many new robotics companies have been acquired this year and even more have been funded. Drone makers 3D Robotics, DJI Innovations and Yuneec Aviation all received massive amounts of equity funding ($50M, $75M and $60M respectively). But even more money was invested by acquisitions. Adept Technologies was acquired by Japanese OMRON Industrial Automation for $200M, Universal Robots by Teradyne for $350M, VGo by Vecna for an undisclosed amount, Segway by Chinese Ninebot and gomTec by ABB. The rationale behind each purchase was strategic as was the $600M joint venture supporting the roll-out of the Pepper robot in Japan and China by SoftBank, Alibaba and Foxconn.
Additionally, three R&D ventures stand out as particularly far-reaching and interesting:
A new Sino-Israeli Robotics Institute is being developed as the centerpiece of a $2bn industrial park in the Guangzhou region of China. It will house entities built around the technology developed jointly by Israeli and Chinese researchers at the new institute. “China is a major opportunity for us, and manufacturers there are very motivated to take advantage of our technology. There are many factories that will be interested in the technology developed at the Institute” said Zvi Shiller, chairman of the Israel Robotics Association.
Earlier this year there was another Chinese joint venture with the Russians. The Skolkovo Foundation and Chinese Cybernaut Investment Group inked a deal to establish an R&D business incubator at the Skolkovo Innovation Center in the outskirts of Moscow, with at least 15 startups in IT and robotics, space, energy-efficiency tech and new materials, which will be developed and marketed with China.
Bosch, the Germany-headquartered global conglomerate, began moving into their new $350M research center outside of Stuttgart. The Bosch Group employs 360,000 people worldwide and generated sales of $55.6bn in 2014 from four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. The new facility consists of 14 multi-story buildings, 11 labs and workshop buildings and two service buildings. The new center (Bosch also has a Research and Technology Center in Palo Alto, California), in Renningen, is near Mercedes and BMW and will house about 1,700 creative minds doing applied industrial research.* “Like a university, our new campus brings together many faculties. Here, we want our researchers to do more than just think about what the future could bring. We want them to be successful entrepreneurs as well. Renningen (and this new campus) is Bosch’s own Stanford and an expression of our faith in Germany as a technology location,” said Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the Bosch board of management.
* I visited two Bosch startups in the Renningen area last year as their new campus was under construction. Wholly-owned by Bosch entrepreneurial startups dotted the office landscape all over the area. The new campus, and Bosch’s encouragement of interdisciplinary collaboration, is sorely needed and shows the company’s goal of staying one step ahead of technological breakthroughs, while adding some of the benefits of a unique community environment.