April 2017 Fundings, Acquisitions, IPOs and Failures
April 2017 had 17 robotics-related companies get funding totaling over $390 million - a fourth solid month for 2017 - $1.05 billion year-to-date. Acquisitions also continued to be substantial with ABB's $2 billion acquisition of Bernecker & Rainer, plus Baidu, iRobot and Cognex each making strategic acquistions.
- Mobvoi, a Chinese voice recognition startup, signed a strategic partnership to build a 50/50 joint venture targeting the automotive market with Volkswagen. The deal involved VW investing $180 million in a Mobvoi series D funding. Modvoi has developed an advanced Chinese speech recognition system, Chinese/English translation, semantic analysis and integrated vertical and proactive search, all adapted for and connected with a smart rear-view mirror that provides navigation, messaging and information through voice input. Prof. Dr. Heizmann, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group China said: “This partnership is a particular example of Volkswagen’s determination to work with groundbreaking Chinese tech companies like Mobvoi to create new forms of people-oriented mobility technology. We are impressed by Mobvoi’s innovative approach of AI technologies, and we are pleased to form this joint venture to explore the next generation of smart mobility.”
- Peloton Technology, a Silicon Valley-based developer of technology for trucks to avoid collisions, cut fuel use and travel in closer proximity, raised a $60 million round of funding led by Omnitracs, and additional investments from existing investors Intel Capital, DENSO International America, BP Ventures, Lockheed Martin, Nokia Growth Partners, UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund, Volvo Group, Sand Hill Angels, Band of Angels and Birchmere Ventures along with new investors B37 Ventures, Mitsui USA, Okaya, Schlumberger, US Venture and Breakthrough Fuel.
- 3D Robotics raised another $53 million in a Series D round led Atlantic Bridge and joined by Autodesk Forge Fund, True Ventures, Foundry Group, Mayfield and other undisclosed investors. TechCrunch says 3DR is attempting a major metamorphosis: it's been working to turn its business into a competitive software player. Its Site Scan software - an aerial analytics platform - enables drone users to precisely control their flights and cameras and send data straight to the cloud.
- Luminar Technology, a Silicon Valley vision systems startup, is developing a new LiDAR-like high-resolution sensor that will help autonomous vehicles read signs, see traffic lights and avoid obstacles. Peter Thiel's 1517 Fund, which invests in startups led by young founders, participated in the $36 million seed round. GVA capital and Canvas Ventures also participated.
- Shield AI, a San Diego developer of artificially intelligent systems, raised $10.5 million in a Series A funding. Andreessen Horowitz led the round.
- Synchron, a San Francisco-based company developing a medical device that records neuron signals as a way to control advanced prosthetics, raised $10 million in Series A funding. Neurotechnology Investors led the round, and was joined by the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Renovo Auto, a Campbell, CA startup creating platforms for autonomous, connected, and electric vehicles, raised $10 million in a funding round led by True Ventures (Verizon’s venture arm).
- Aurora Innovation, a Silicon Valley startup headed by Chris Urmson, former CTO of Google’s self-driving car project, has raised $6.1 from Allen & Company, Chris Urmson, Drew Bagnell and Sterling Anderson (who previously oversaw Tesla’s Autopilot software and who was involved in a lawsuit by Tesla which was settled/dropped by Tesla just the other day).
- VIST Group, a 25-year-old Russian IT company, raised $6 million from I2BF Global Ventures and VTB Capital Asset Management to develop robotizing and autonomous equipment for the mining industry. Said Vladimir Sakovich of the Skolkovo Foundation: “VIST is an example of those Russian companies, not numerous yet, that are showing good financial performance with a huge potential for international markets and also constantly developing innovative high-tech solutions."
- The Yield Technology Solutions, an Austrailian ag analytics and sensors startup, raised $4.9 million from lead investor Bosch, as well as from KPMG and AgFunder in a Series A funding round. The startup will use the funds to expand beyond aquaculture (oyster farming), its first target market in Australia, and into the US where it will focus on customers on the West Coast growing intensive, irrigated crops.
- DeepScale, a Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle vision systems startup, raised $3 million in a seed round. Investors included Bessemer Venture Partners, Greylock, Auto Tech Ventures, Andy Bechtolsheim (who was the first investor in Google) and Jerry Yang.
- Arbe Robotics, an Israeli drone radar collision avoidance platform, raised $2.5 million from unknown sources. Arbe is also developing radar for autonomous vehicles that facilitates real-time mapping at distances up to 300 meters.
- WiBotic, a Seattle startup developing a wireless power and battery solution for mobile air, land and sea robots, raised $2.5 million in a seed round led by Tsing Capital, and including investments from Comet Labs and Digi Labs as well as follow-on investments from W Fund, WRF Capital and Wisemont Capital.
- COSY (Cognitive Operational Systems), a spin-off from the GRASP Labs at U Penn, raised $2.3 million (in February) in a Series A round from Safeguard Scienfitics, a growth-stage VC. COSY has developed a vision, perception and AI system for mobile robots to collect and evaluate inventory data.
- BestMile, a Swiss startup developing a cloud platform for the operation and optimization of autonomous vehicle fleets, raised $2 million from Airbus Venture, Partech Venture, and Serena Capital.
- Compound Eye, a San Francisco 3D vision for autonomous machines startup, raised $1 million from unknown sources.
- Ecoation Innovative Solutions, a Vancouver, CA ag sensor and analytics startup, raised $750k in a seed round with funds to be used to launch commercial sales to greenhouse growers in North America.
When asked about the few IPOs but many acquisitions in the digital, tech and robotics industries, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said in an interview in Fortune Magazine:
When Steve and I started Apple we were so naïve and young. We didn't know anything about business. We didn't know that it’s often the case that you start a company and then you get bought out as an exit strategy. We thought that you start at home, you make a product, and become profitable so you have your company forever. As long as it makes a profit, it never goes away. That's how I thought companies worked. Boy, it's a different story now in Silicon Valley.
I think there are an awful lot of people who have a quick exit plan like selling the business to another big company to get enough money to buy a house in San Francisco. Then they move on to the next one. There are many companies that are started by business people and not engineers. Engineers say, “What would be a cool product? What would make the world greater and better?” That's where I come from.
- ABB has acquired Austrian industrial automation company Bernecker & Rainer, a move that fits in with its strategy of expanding its products to better challenge German rival Siemens on the factory floor. The Swiss company said the acquisition would increase its sales in industrial automation to around $15 billion by adding B&R's annual sales of more than $600 million. ABB gave no purchase price but a person familiar with the matter said it was nearly $2 billion.
- iRobot has acquired the Japanese iRobot-related distribution business of Sales on Demand Corp, a Tokyo integrator/reseller for around $15 million. The acquisition is expected to contribute incremental revenue of approximately $20-$25 million in 2017 and to expand gross margin.
- Cognex, the large vision systems provider, acquired Boulder, CO 3D sensor camera maker Chiaro Technologies for $3.5 million plus $1.25 million based upon reaching certain milestone revenue levels.
- Cognex also acquired ViDi Systems SA, a Swiss maker of deep learning machine vision software for an undisclosed amount.
- MHI Holdings, a Norfolk, Va. provider of marine repair services backed by Stellex Capital Management, acquired Seaward Marine Services, a provider of robotic underwater hull cleaning and ship husbandry services, and Accurate Marine Environmental, a provider of marine and industrial tank and bilge cleaning services, environmental remediation, and disposal services. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
- Schmalz, a global Germany-based manufacturer of vacuum technology for the robotics industry, acquired GPS GmbH (GPS Production Systems), a spin-off from the Fraunhofer Institute IPA, for an undisclosed amount. GPS develops products, tools and methods - including a plug-and-play interface for connection - to interface actuators and sensors to MES and ERP systems.
- Baidu acquired Silicon Valley vision systems startup Xperception for an undisclosed amount. xPerception co-founders Dr. Bao Yingze and Dr. Chen Mingyu, were early key engineers at AR start-up Magic Leap. Following the acquisition, the core xPerception team will join Baidu Research and continue developing xPerception's core technology, visual-inertial simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). Baidu hopes to harness the potential of xPerception's visual perception camera in its bid to develop autonomous cars. The camera's features include sophisticated tracking technology, three-dimensional obstacle detection, and object recognition. Michael Ramsey, transportation and mobility analyst for Gartner Research, explained that the acquisition could "help push Baidu closer to the leaders" but that it has a long way to go.
"Right now, the largest tech players are scrambling to catch Uber, which has a big head start on virtually everyone. That means that if you don't have the capability in-house, you have to acquire it. XPerception has expertise in processing and identifying images, an important part of the sensing for autonomous vehicles. The purchase may help push Baidu closer to the leaders, but it is just one piece... it has a long way to go."
- San Jose, CA-based Mota Group, a maker of fingertip-sized drone toys and a line of more professional drones for commercial users, filed for an IPO of up to $23 million last year, pulled that and has recently lowered that figure to just $6 million and refiled. No indication of when the actual launch will occur.
- Myomo, a Cambridge, MA upper limbs exoskeleton startup, filed for a Reg A+ IPO of $15 million in February and Banq, the issuer and service provider, says the final papers will be submitted mid-May.
- Knightscope, a Silicon Valley security systems and robotics startup, also filed for a $20 million Reg A+ IPO in February and, according to SeedInvest, the issuer and service provider, is close to completing the transaction. Knightscope was evasive but sent over this picture of their company on NASDAQ's massive NYC signboard . A 1/4 page ad for Knightscope's offering also appeared in the WSJ and USA Today.
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Contributed by ROBO Global co-founder Frank Tobe, Editor & Publisher of The Robot Report
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