Robotics startups globally had a record year for deals in 2016. Deals were up by 18%, from 147 in 2015 to 174 in 2016, despite a slowdown in Q4’16.
Much of this growth was driven by the enterprise robotics sector, which is focused on robotics-enabled tasks ranging from industrial automation to last-mile delivery. The sector saw 74 deals in 2015 — 95% growth from 38 deals the previous year — and 93 deals in 2016. Deals to the consumer robotics sector remained constant at 44 in 2016, after seeing 96% growth in 2015.
To analyze where deals are going within each category, we used the CB Insights database to classify companies into categories, and studied the deals distribution in the last 5 years. This post was initially published in October 2016 and updated in January 2017 to include deals data through the end of the year.
Around 48% of the deals went to startups building enterprise robots, including those used in heavy industries and manufacturing. Consumer robots accounted for 28% of the total deal share over the last 5 years, and the medical sector received 13% of deal share. A small percentage of the deals, around 6.5%, went to startups focused on security and rescue applications.
This report contains a detailed analysis of the following sectors:
Our analysis includes all equity funding and convertible note rounds. It excludes companies focused exclusively on software, as well as driverless cars, which we have covered extensively in our auto tech research here.
- Drones (non-delivery): Drone startups focused on tasks like site inspection, surveying, and 3D mapping for a variety of industries like agriculture and construction. The sector saw 41 deals last year — the largest number of deals among the enterprise robotics categories in 2016 — up from 22 in 2015. To name a few, smart money VC CRV backed Israel-based startup Airobotics, which builds drones for industries including mining and oil & gas, in a $28.5M Series B round in Q2’16. Lux Capital backed California-based Saildrone, which collects ocean data, in a $14M Series A round. Last year, one of the largest funding rounds went to China-based DJI Innovations, with a $75M Series B round, backed by Accel Partners. Though DJI builds consumer drones like Mavec and Phantom, it has also built drones for industrial applications, and so is included under this category.
- Delivery: This category includes unmanned aerial vehicles and ground robots focused on last-mile logistics, including delivering medicines and other goods to the homes of consumers. Startups here have raised over 15 equity deals since 2012, with deal numbers picking up in the last 2 years. San Francisco-based Zipline International announced a partnership with the Rwandan government to improve access to healthcare by delivering medications using a mini-robotic airplane. The company raised $18M in Q2’16 from investors including Sequoia Capital, AME Cloud Ventures, and Google Ventures. Andreessen Horowitz backed Dispatch in a $2M seed round in the same quarter. Most of the companies in this category are still in their early stages of funding, including Robby, Matternet, and Airpost.
- Retail & Warehouse: Startups here raised 16 equity deals in 2015. But deals dropped in 2016 by half. GreyOrange Robotics in India, which has built robots for material handling and sorting, raised $30M in Q3’15 from Blume Ventures and Tiger Global Management. Softbank Capital invested in Fetch Robotics. In retail, Bossa Nova Robotics raised $10.7M in Q3’16. Fellow Robots, which built the robot Navii for inventory management in stores, and Simbe Robotics, which built shelf-auditing robot Tally, raised funds from China-based hardware accelerator HAX.
- Restaurant: Robots in restaurants that can cook or serve customers have generated some interest over the years. Back in 2012, Momentum Machines raised seed funds for building a robot that “makes gourmet burgers from scratch.” Five companies were seed-funded in 2016, including robot restaurant Spyce Kitchen, bar-tending robot Monsieur, and another cooking robot Casabots.
- Service (Other): Robots here are involved in a variety of service tasks, like lawn mowing for golf clubs. Deals to this category more than doubled up in 2016. CleanRobotics raised funds from HAX for Trashbot, a trash-sorting robot for offices; Savioke, a service robot for the hospitality industry, raised $15M this year from Northern Light Venture Capital, Intel Capital, and EDBI.
- Heavy Industry & Manufacturing: This is a broad category that includes robots involved in a number of industrial automation tasks including manufacturing, assembly, agribusiness, robotic food inspection systems, and plant inspections. Startups here have raised over 77 deals since 2012. Companies that raised equity funds in 2016 include Clearpath Robotics, Life Robotics, Square Robot, and Quotient Kinematics Machine.
- Labs: Four companies have raised funds for laboratory automation, targeted mainly at lab research.
- Personal drones: Intel Capital invested $60M in China-based Yuneec. (You can read more about Intel, Google, Foxconn, and other corporations investing in private robotics startups in our analysis here.) Computer vision-based drone startup Skydio raised $25M in Q1’16 from Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. Other personal drone startups, most of them in their early stages of funding, include xCraft, UVify, Squadrone System, OpenROV, and EHANG. Another company, 3D Robotics, which started off with its consumer drone Solo, later diversified into industrial applications. Though it has now reportedly “exited hardware,” we included previous deals raised by the company in this category for analysis. From over 10 in 2015, deals to this category dropped by more than half in 2016.
“[3D Robotics] realized that the once-empty consumer drone space would soon be flooded with dozens [of] Chinese competitors and their similar four-propeller flying gadgets… 3D Robotics’ leaders reversed course, shelving plans for a larger, industrial version of [consumer drone] Solo code named “Blackbird,” and plotting their path out of manufacturing.” – Ryan Mac reported for Forbes
- Educational: Robots that teach children to code have piqued the interest of investors in recent years, with deals reaching a 5-year-high in 2016. The most well-funded startup in this sub-category is Wonder Workshop, which has raised $36M in equity funding from investors including CRV, Madrona Venture Group, and Google Ventures. Another startup, Modular Robotics, is backed by Foundry Group. Sequoia Capital China invested in China-based Makeblock in a $6M Series A round in 2014. In Q4’16, Two Bit Circus, which developed Oomiyu, a robotic kit for children, raised $6.75M in Series B from Foundry Group and Techstars Ventures.
- Social: Social robots, including companion and entertainment robots for homes, have received the greatest deal share among our consumer robotics categories. Startups in this category have raised nearly 50 equity deals since 2012. Humanoid robotics startup UBTECH joined the unicorn club this year after raising a $100M Series B round from CDH Investments, Goldstone Investment, and CITIC Securities International. China-based Turing Robot, which develops robotics operating systems, announced the launch of a companion robot for kids at the price of a smartphone. Another China-based companion robot company, ROOBO, raised a $100M Series A round in Q3’16. London-based Olly raised $10M last quarter from Alliance Capital Ventures and Lightning Capital. Another startup, Anki, raised $52.5M in Q2’16 from Index Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, JPMorgan Chase, and Andreessen Horowitz.
- Service (Consumer): This includes robotic arms and personal transportation robots, as well as robots that perform household chores like cooking, vacuuming, bartending, and even cleaning your fish tank. In 2016, 7 companies raised equity funds, including personal transportation robot Ninebot and desktop robotic arm Dobot.
- Surgical: More than half the deals in the medical robotics sector went to surgical robots in the last 5 years. One of the most well-funded robotics startups, Auris Surgical Robots, raised 2 growth equity rounds of $149.5M and $49M from Lux Capital and Mithril Capital Management. Johnson & Johnson took a minority stake in Verb Surgical in Q4’15. Another top round was a $45M Series D round raised by robotic hair transplant company Restoration Robotics, backed by Alloy Ventures, Clarus Ventures, InterWest Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures.
- Bionics & Rehab: Startups here are developing exoskeletons or robotic assistance for physical rehabilitation therapies. In 2016, 3 of the 5 deals in this area went to companies in Europe: Movendo Technology, an Italian Institute of Technology spin-off, raised $11.15M; High-Tech Gruenderfonds, the most active VC in robotics, backed Germany-based Reactive Robotics; Tyromotion in Austria was backed by Germany-based VC firm SHS Gesellschaft fur Beteiligungsmanagement.
- Service (Medical): Startups here are working on applications ranging from hospital floor cleaning to assisting physicians in non-surgical tasks. Some of the top rounds include a $28M Series B round raised by Invendo Medical (robot-assisted endoscopy), and a $25M Series D round raised by Xenex Disinfection Services (UV disinfection robots).
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SAFETY & GOVERNMENT
- Building Security: Knightscope builds “Autonomous Data Machines” for physical security in commercial buildings. It has raised $13M so far from investors including Flextronics International, NTT DoCoMo Ventures, and Plug and Play Ventures. Rapyuta Robotics, which is building multi-robot systems that can interact and “learn from each other,” raised $10M in Series A in Q3’16 from SBI Investment. Other startups here include Netherlands-based Robot Security Systems, and Colorado-based Gamma 2 Robotics.
- Field Assistance: Robots in this category are used in the military, serve as a “pair of eyes” to law enforcement in the field, or assist first responders with rescue missions in hazardous environments. Three out of the 4 startups here raised equity funds this year. Switzerland-based Rovenso, which has built a rover to assist in rescue operations during natural and man-made disasters, raised a seed round and a convertible note round from HAX. GE Ventures and Microsoft backed Sarcos, which has built a robot for lifting during rescue operations, and an “Iron Man” exoskeleton for military operations, among other things. In the first week of 2017, Sarcos raised another $15.6M Series A round from investor Schlumberger. Israel-based Roboteam raised $50M in Q3’16, and reportedly struck a deal with the US Department of Defense as well as the Israeli military.
- Drones: Drones for security and intelligence, both aerial and underwater, have raised over 15 deals since 2012. The top round was a $46M growth equity raised by Aeryon Labs in Q4’15 from Boston-based Summit Partners. Last year, startups including Aptonomy and stealth underwater drone company Strategic Robotic Systems raised equity funds.
- Telepresence: A few companies are working on general telepresence robots. London-based Cambrian Intelligence, which is developing a technology where a robot present at a remote location replicates your movements, raised seed funds this year. Japan-based Adawarp has developed VR software that can remotely control its “Teleporter” robot. It was seed-funded in Q3’15 by the Rothenberg Ventures River Accelerator. Other startups here are VGo Communications and Double Robotics, and Russia-based Wicron.
- Other: 18 deals went to general purpose robotics solutions providers, and other startups like MegaBots (which makes humanoid fighting robots) and 3D Media (working on robotic vision).
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