So, this is going to sound like a cop out (because, honestly, it kind of is), but the through line for the past week’s robotics investments is variety. That is to say that this week’s round of funding is all over the place in terms of verticals, which is probably an overall positive sign of the health of robotics investing in general. VCs seem to be pretty bullish about automation across a variety of different sectors.
Medical continues to be a biggie. What’s wild about surgical robots is how long they’ve actually been in practice. The earliest date back to the mid-80s, for things like orthopedic surgeries. As for more mainstream usage, Intuitive’s da Vinci has been around for more than 20 years. At last count, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 of these devices deployed worldwide.
Fittingly, Intuitive co-founder Frederic Moll is among the new advisers for ForSight Robotics. The Israeli startup just raised $10 million in what it calls a “mega-seed round” for its eye surgery platform. Ophthalmological procedures, for what should be obvious reasons, have even less room for error than most surgeries.
The company says it can “democratize” the difficult procedure across different geographies – particularly those where access to professionals may be lacking. Per numbers from the British Journal of Ophthalmology, there are around 3.7 qualified surgeons per million citizens in developing countries. The hope is that getting machines like these in more medical facilities could help level the playing field to some degree.
Here’s an interesting piece on Rani Therapeutics. Robotic pills are an interesting idea that has been floating around research facilities for a long time (MIT, in particular, has been pretty big on it), and it’s great to see someone take steps toward commercializing the concept. Specifically, the company’s product is designed to deliver subcutaneous injections to the small intestine.
Speaking of bringing concepts into practice, one of the more interesting things about Nimble Robotics is the speed with which they’ve deployed into the real world. The company is earning that name – and, apparently, that $50 million Series A raise. It’s also enlisted big names like Fei-Fei Li and Sebastian Thrun as advisors. The company builds on the deep imitation learning concept to deliver adaptable pick-and-place fulfillment robots.
“We’re not the first robotic pick, place-and-pack company that’s out there. We’ve grown really fast and have a lot of robots deployed in production,” the CEO told me this week. “A lot of people have show robots in the corner of a warehouse. Right now, we have heaps of robots deployed, and we’re growing really quickly. These are robots that are in production and picking tens of thousands of real orders every single day for each of our customers.”
Bedrock Ocean Exploration’s $8 million raise isn’t huge by comparison, but there’s plenty of growth potential here. There’s a reason, after all, that Shell ran an underwater exploration XPrize not all that long ago. Launched by Nautilus Labs cofounder Anthony DiMare, the company is deploying advanced underwater robotics to survey the ocean floor for a variety of different applications, from wind farms to laying intercontinental cables.
A couple of last-mile delivery robotics co’s warrant mention this week. I wrote about Refraction.AI, which debuted on our Mobility stage a few years back. The last-mile delivery company built its robot on a bicycle frame, making an ideal form factor for cruising around in bike lines. The Ann Arbor startup just raised $4.2 million and is planning to expand to additional markets.
Bay Area startup, Tortoise, meanwhile, just got a nice viability boost from Albertsons. The grocery mega-conglomerate plans to pilot the company’s robots in a couple of NorCal Safeway stores. If that goes well, the delivery carts will be arriving in even more West Coast locations.
On the other side of the food chain is Strawbot, another in a long list of agtech robotics that has been popping up in recent years. The company says it can offer farmers a labor cost savings of up to one-third by following pickers around. It’s a different take on strawberry crops that Traptic offers. And while it doesn’t actually do the picking, the company certainly wins the name game.
One quick mention of Anki — er, Digital Dream Labs, I guess — before we go. The Pittsburgh-based edtech company bought Anki’s IP after the well-funded startup imploded. This week, it announced plans to relaunch the popular Cozmo and Vector robotics toys. Per the piece:
Anki invested tremendous resources into bringing them to life, including the hiring of ex-Pixar and DreamWorks staff to make the robots more lifelike. A lot of thought went into giving the robots a distinct personality, whereas, for instance, Vector’s new owners are making the robot open-source. Cozmo, meanwhile, will have programmable functionality through the company’s app.
So, hello again, old friend.
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