I just completed my annual tally for VC funding in robotics in 2014, and the results were pretty amazing. By my primitive calculations, VC funding for robotics increased over 36% compared to 2013 -- totaling a whopping $341.3 Million for 2014. I'll tentatively ascribe the massive gains to: (1) A frothy funding environment; (2) Lots and lots of drone startups; and (3) A series of later stage medical robotics companies raising large sums. If 2014 is any indicator, I think 2015 could be another really big year for robotics!
For perspective, here are the tallies from years past:
==> 2014: $341.3 Million
The play-by-play for 2014:
* I opted to leave off any funding that was under $1 Million. I also (largely) ignored crowdfunding, since these arrangements do not typically involve equity transfer. Furthermore, it is harder and harder to determine "what constitutes a robotics company?" I used my own dictatorial judgment; feel free to disagree in the comments. For example, Vicarious raised $12 Million for vision and AI, but they have no actual robots. Meanwhile, others totaled drone deals alone at $105 Million (still others at $412 Million!), but they included data processing and satellite companies (like Spire, which raised $25 Million) -- cool companies, but not robotics. Plus, we didn't include Rethink Robotics' $30 Million Series C, which was announced just after the new year. Finally, I almost always miss a few funding rounds; let me know in the comments (with a credible source!) and I'll update the tally.
† Frank Tobe of The Robot Report notified me of a few extra funding announcements, including: Airphrame ($4.2 Million), Resson Aerospace ($3Million), MicaSense ($2Million), and 3D Robotics (rumored $5Million). Some of these are borderline, as they either make drone parts (hyperspectral cameras) or data analytics packages. I'm going to leave them off the talley for now, but it's illustrative to mention them anyway.
The robot slotcar company, Anki Drive, raised $55 Million in 2014, taking it's total funding to over $100 Million. Hizook (aka, Travis) did a teardown and review of the system and found it somewhat lacking (we have high expectations and aren't the target market), but we acknowledge that it's a well-done toy. Now that they have an Android (WiFi) version, the cost is pretty competitive too.
Medrobotics raised 2 funding rounds in 2014: A $26 Million Series E and a $20 Million Series F. Medrobotics produces an endoscope surgical robot. Having raised over $100M in just 3 years, it may have IPO aspirations?
Who would've thought that hair restoration could be so lucrative? :-P Restoration Robotics, whose office is just down the street from me, raised a $45 Million Series C round this year. It sounds like they must be doing alright; they're going to use the funds to build a 2nd generation product.
Corindus is a surgical robot system for cardiovascular procedures. They raised $26.6 Million in 2014. Afraid I don't have much to say about them beyond that.
In 2014, Airware raised a $25 Million Series B from VCs as well as an undisclosed sum from strategic investor / partner (GE Ventures). Airware builds control system for commercial UAVs. Jonathan Downey, the founder, was in my YCombinator batch (Winter 2013), so I'm excited to see them succeeding!
According to a Frank Tobe article over on RoboHub, Orbotix raised a $15.5 Million Series D; however, others put the round at $20 Million total. Orbotix's first product, Sphero, was a small bluetooth-controlled robot ball. Their new product, Ollie, is similar but has traded the enclosed ball for dual treads. Orbotix is special to me, considering that it was founded by Ian Bernstein (who unwittingly helped me learn electronics as a kid via BEAM mailing lists) and funded by Brad Feld (one of my favorite investors per his writings).
This one is a bit complicated. They were on the "VC in Robotics" list last year for $5.8 Million Series B. But 14 months later, they announced that they completed their $14 Million Series B. So either they raised a new $14 Million round, or it took them forever to fill out another $8 or $9 Million in their round. Anyway, they provide "vacuum robotics and Hybrid-Field Motor Technology for the semiconductor, LED, FPD and solar equipment markets."
QBotix, which makes automated solar tracking systems, raised a $12 Million Series B in 2014 to help them ramp up manufacturing and sales. I don't really have much insight into this company. What little I know about the solar industry seems to indicate that capex (ie. materials) and opex (ie. maintenance) for solar trackers typically destroys any gains versus just installing bulk cells -- especially for smaller installations. I can't say if QBotix bucks this trend, but clearly some investors think they do.
PrecisionHawk makes drone data collection and cloud analytics tools. They raised a $10Million round in 2014. The drone space is really heating up!
After a massively successful Kickstarter in 2013, Play-I raised a $8 Million Series A. I think this is a prime example of how crowdfunding can and should segue into building proper businesses. Kudos to Play-I; plus, ed-tech is supremely difficult, so they'll need the encouragement!
Knightscope raised a $1.5 Million seed round and a $5.2 Million Series A in 2014. This SFBA startup builds a security robot that patrols office parks and schools. I'm surprised that this product is viable, but I'm wishing them the best of luck; it's obvious that something like this should exist some day.
Founded by some friends of mine, Mujin raised $6 Million this year. Mujin is modernizing old-school manufacturing. They use modern software and interactive motion controllers to help large manufacturers update their production lines (using decades-old robots) in drastically shorter times compared to what would be required using crummy old motion-jogging panels. Learn more in our Hizook article about Mujin robotics.
I'm not sure how this works... but Romotive, who builds little smartphone-controlled toys, raised two $5 Million Series A rounds: one in 2012 and one in 2014. This is backed up by Crunchbase as well. They also made a move to the SF Bay Area from Nevada in 2014.
There's little information online about this 8 year old company. The best I could find was this company overview video. Apparently they make in vivo mini surgical robots for colon resection. John Murphey, the CEO, updated Crunchbase this year to indicate that they'd raised $4 Million in convertible notes. I have a lot of love for Nebraska startups (go Huskers!), but seriously guys.... update your website with some information; that's marketing 101.
HiBot is a Japanese startup that makes power line inspection robots. This is a super-common topic in mid-2000's academic circles, so hopefully they have the technology nailed down and are now figuring out the business aspects. They raised $3.1 Million.
Modular Robotics, which makes modular toy robots, raised an additional $3.1 Million this year. One of the Modular Robotics co-founders (Mark Gross) previously contributed an article to Hizook -- check it out!
This company is actually pretty cool. They make robot railroad track inspection robots. They raised $2.5 Million this year.
Normally I don't include crowdfunding in this list, since the vast majority are less than $1Million. I'll make an exception for Jibo, which raised $2.3 Million via Indiegogo for social desktop robot for the home. Much like Play-I on this year's list, I fully expect that Jibo will raise a venture round. In fact, I'd be surprised if they haven't already and are strategically postponing the announcement. If they haven't raised, they should; I'd invest. :-P
Monsieur makes robot bartenders and raised a $2 Million seed round in 2014. This seems like the quintessential undergrad product turned into a company. That sounds kind of tongue in cheek, but I mean it quite literally; I literally built a bartending robot as my undergraduate senior thesis back in 2001 (video proof). Anyway, I wish them luck!
Despite a rocky Kickstarter campaign, Ozobot wowed at CES and ToyFair with their little educational robot toys. They used the momentum to raise a $2 Million Series A.
Friends of ours at Savioke, mostly former Willow Garagers, raised $2 Million this year. They also launched a new bellhop (hotel service robot) that got some good press. Good job, guys.
This is a small Japanese startup that builds robots for healthcare; they raised $2 Million this year. Unfortunately, that's about all I know of this startup. :-/ Based on the one whitepaper I found mentioning them, it seems like they're working on force controlled teleoperation for robot surgery.
Still more aerial inspection, data, and mapping. I'm starting to sound like a broken record. Cyberhawk is yet another, funded with $1.9 Million.
The SEC says this stealthy startup raised $1.3 Million. All we know is that they're "Developing the latest robotic technology to improve healthcare." So it sounds like they're still in stealth mode; their website is completely bare.
I'd like to extend my thanks to people who wrote in to me with funding announcements. A special thanks to Jeff Carlson, who provided a partial list on Quora. And also to Frank Tobe of TheRobotReport, who tracks the business side of robotics -- including recent funding announcements and lists of his own.