AlleyCorp Robotics | April 2023 Newsletter
April 4, 2023
Hi friends -
Welcome to the April edition of our robotics newsletter!
We are here for robotics company founders, investors, and employees. We put in the time to dig up and share all the good stuff happening in our industry. Then we package it up for you! It’s just that simple 🤖.
We like to kick things off with some robot fun:
Lots of good stuff below.
AlleyCorp Robotics Update
If you like us, you’ll like AlleyCorp! - beyond robotics, AlleyCorp is active in healthcare, materials, impact, marketplaces, dev tools, and more! Subscribe to our AlleyCorp newsletter in time for the next release on April 10th.
We’re glad SVB continues to be - Silicon Valley Bank is now a division of First Citizens Bank after the events that shook everyone in tech - we appreciate our founders and partners who navigated this situation calmly and professionally.
Early stage is happening - while big tech continues layoffs, early stage companies are the place to be. Recently funded companies have runway to get through tough times, and the best companies are forged in tough times.
Robotics events rock - we’re sponsoring another NYC Robotics Meetup on April 27th in Brooklyn. In the city? Swing on by!
Have news & events to share? - Email us with your announcements, open roles, opinions, and/or cute animal pictures - we’ll feature them in future newsletters or our furry-Friday twitter posts.
Congratulations, you found a gem of a newsletter! You are an especially brilliant person, to be reading about robotics! Sign up so you get the next one too :D. ~Abe
Robot news | Part I - synthesis
Strong job market even with financial frenzy and tech layoffs
We are optimistic and investing - we shared our positive thoughts with TechCrunch’s Actuator as the SVB events unfolded:
Google fires humans and robots - The search giant removed 12,000 employees or 6% of their employees but this doesn't take the robots into account. These cuts impact divisions such as Area 120, the Google in-house incubator and Alphabet’s robotics division, Intrinsic. Looks like Google will need people cleaning the offices as Everyday Robots was closed down.
Tech slump encourages VCs to rediscover old ways - Small, profitable firms in strategic industries are now all the rage which jives with our thesis at ARV.
For smarter robots, just add humans - Autonomous machines are still too clumsy for delicate tasks. But humans can operate mechanical arms from afar, turning physical labor into remote work.
Speaking of humans - Here’s a helpful checklist on how you can successfully demo your robots. Also, like Ex-Googler Ryan Hickman, we still believe robots should not be shaped like humans. We’ll dig deeper in future newsletters, so make sure you’re subscribed!
Overall themes in robotics are optimistic - Automation is here, human-robot interaction is fundamental to success, scalability hasn’t arrived, robotics is multidisciplinary and more great takeaways here.
What are robots up to these days?
Robots are pushing buttons - Roboticists at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Berkeley, are training robot dogs to use their legs for manipulation, not just locomotion, demonstrating skills that include climbing walls, pressing buttons, and even kicking a soccer ball.
Robots see with V-SLAM - Neubility plans to roll out 400 lidar-free delivery and security robots by year-end using V-SLAM, which allows autonomous mobile robots to perceive their surrounding environment and get visual data from the physical world; then, it builds a 3D map generated by the robots and localizes the robots in that map.
Robots learn from humans - MimicPlay is creating an AI model that teaches robots using videos of humans performing tasks. Also, Google’s PaLM-E executes commands using the ChatGPT-style AI model. The RT-1 robotics transformer, PaLM-E draws from Google's previous work on ViT-22B, a vision transformer model that has been trained on various visual tasks, such as image classification, object detection, semantic segmentation, and image captioning.
Robots protect us - They stand five feet tall and glide at three miles per hour, patrolling office buildings for everything from broken fire alarms to suspicious activity.
Construction labor shortages get help from robots - Honda combines vehicles and robots with the Autonomous Work Vehicle (AWV). It just unveiled a new 3rd-generation version designed to transport up to two palettes worth of goods around worksites with no human assistance.
Robots show off - ProMat 2023 brought together some of the world’s leading manufacturing and supply chain equipment providers. This year’s show had 1,000-plus exhibitors. Here are some highlights.
Want a desktop robot? - Elephant Robotics unveils new desktop educational robots for 2023, including an AI Robot Kit.
Robots are packing and fulfilling orders, as well as delivering…
Warehouse automation + robots in restaurants - Locus Robotics’ CEO gets a lot of calls about restaurants but the team remains focused as there are 135,000 warehouses out there in need of robots with less than 5% automated today. The Daash XL robot is serving San Diego’s food and drink scene as the industry sees higher than average quitting rates.
R&D beyond the warehouse - 6 River’s co-founder answered what problems they are focusing R&D on: “Not the picking side. In the world of total addressable market — the industry as a whole, between Locus, us, Fetch and others — is at maybe 5% penetration… I also think the logical expansion is around the case and pallet operations.”
Autonomous drone delivery - Zipline adds rappelling droid to delivery drones, enabling tabletop drop offs. These adorable electric autonomous delivery drones use 97% less energy for faster transit.
Robots deliver groceries - After 75% of people said they felt positive about the robots delivering supermarket goods, Leeds City Council (England) agreed to extend the services until June.
Deals in this space:
Fulfil Solutions raises $60.0M in Series B for mobile robots used to handle inventory and pack orders for online grocery and micro-fulfillment warehouses.
Nimble secures a $65 million Series B round - Nimble is a six-year-old San Francisco startup that makes robots for e-commerce fulfillment centers (it has also begun operating its own centers, too, more recently). Cedar Pine led the deal, joined by previous investors DNS Capital, GSR Ventures, and Breyer Capital. The company has raised a total of $115 million.
LexxPluss raises $10.7 million in Series A funding that values the company at approximately $38.8 million - LexxPluss is a 2.5-year-old Japan-based startup that designs and develops autonomous mobile robots to transport loads and optimize workflows within warehouses and logistic sites. Drone Fund led the latest financing along with SOSV’s HAX, Incubate Fund, SBI investment and DBJ Capital.
Plus One raises $50M for its parcel robotics vision systems - The Series C brings the San Antonio-based firm’s total funding up to $94 million to date (including a $33 million Series B back in 2021). Scale Venture Partners led the round, which also features participation from Top Tier Capital Partners, Tyche Partners and ROBO Global Ventures.
🚜 Robots are farming
‘Technology is a means, not an end’ in farming - And other key takeaways from Indoor Ag-Con 2023.
Rethinking the “cost of doing business” in ag - Agtech has mainly focused on optimizing products and the next big opportunity is in serving ag service providers through digitization and innovation in business models.
Robot farmers & AI - This video describes how agriculture is changing as technology continues to develop.
Spray vs. snip? - Verdant Robotics develops precision herbicide spraying solutions while FarmWise uses autonomous machines to snip weeds, preserving crops and eliminating the need for herbicides to enable organic at scale.
Deals in this space:
John Deere acquired SparkAI, a New York-based startup that develops human-in-the-loop technology to help robots resolve edge cases in real-time. John Deere, which has developed autonomous tractors, was a SparkAI customer for a few years prior to the acquisition. SparkAI was founded in 2020 and had raised $7.3 million before being scooped up by John Deere.
SwarmFarm lands $8.3m to move autonomous farming beyond driverless tractors. Conexus Venture Capital‘s Emmertech fund led the round with participation from Tribe Global Ventures and Access Capital. Existing investors Tenacious Ventures, and the GrainInnovate fund also participated.
🏡 Lawn care robots are mowing and watering grass
This robot oversubscribed on Kickstarter - Heisenberg LawnMeister All-in-One Robot Mower is live on Kickstarter. Pledge levels start at $999, a $1,500 or 60% discount on the MSRP. You can use optional attachments to allow the robot to trim lawn edges, blow leaves or apply fertilizer to your grass. Plus, Heisenberg Pilot System (HPS) allows this lawn roomba to navigate without a boundary wire.
Mower controlled by voice commands - The STIHL iMOW robot lawn mower pricing has been unveiled for the EU. The new line-up features six models, which start at $2,200. The devices can cover lawn areas up to 53,820 ft², and tackle inclines up to 60%.
Robots save lawn from weeds - Dandy Technology is committed to saving your lawn -- and back -- from pesky weeds with their new lawn care robots designed for residential customers with up to one acre of coverage area, especially those looking to limit herbicide use.
Deals in this space:
Swap’s robotic mowers score $7M in seed funding - Swap announced a $7 million seed round, led by SOLV Energy, a California-based solar provider. The round also features backing from SOSV’s HAX division. Swap charges through a subscription-based RaaS model, based on a variety of factors, including frequency and terrain. The company has already lined up $9 million in contracts for the next three years.
Irrigreen raises a $15 million seed round - Irrigreen, a five-year-old San Francisco startup that makes robotic irrigation systems, announced a seed round led by Ulu Ventures, with Sage Hill Investors, Burnt Island Ventures, MFV Partners, Anorak Ventures, Echo River Capital, Tamiami, Catalyst Innovation Lab, and Sum Ventures also piling on.
🪟 Robots clean windows
Robot window washers are here to clean our skyscrapers - Two competing Israeli companies, Skyline Robotics and Verobotics, are pitching their robot-based window-cleaning systems in New York and other big cities. Both companies sell AI-based systems with robots that hug buildings' curtain wall. The robots scrub walls and windows with brushes, but don't use any chemicals.
Want your own window washing robot? - HOBOT-388 is a window cleaning robot carrying the new patented ultrasonic water spray nozzle that can nebulize water to 15μm mists then sprays it evenly on the glass like the effect of human exhales on the glass. Benefited from a vacuum motor inside, two specially-designed cleaning wheels and a microfiber cloth, HOBOT-388 can freely move on window surfaces indoors and outdoors to polish the dust away.
Robots are experiencing life…
Robots act religious - Robots are performing Hindu rituals, and some devotees fear they’ll replace worshippers. Apparently ritual automation, or at least the idea of robotic spiritual practice, isn’t new in South Asian religions.
Robot eldercare is not going according to plan - Thinking about robots for these tasks isn't just thinking about how care gets done. It's thinking about what care really is.
Maybe a realistic robot hand would help? - Of course, human hands aren’t always the perfect robot manipulator. But when you need a realistic hand, you really need it. We see a lot of attempts at realistic hands, and we have to say they are getting better.
Family robot enters homes - Enabot raised on Kickstarter to make the "first true family bot", designed to help “protect, entertain and inform your loved ones” while moving independently around the home.
Exoskeletons are going commercial - The Hypershell Omega exoskeleton is designed for many scenarios, from search and rescue to high performance and endurance activities, and more casual occasions like day-long treks on a museum circuit.
Deals in this space:
1X Technologies (previously Halodi Robotics) has secured $23.5 million in a Series A2 funding round led by OpenAI Startup Fund (also backed CodiumAI). Other investors who participated include Tiger Global and a consortium of Norway-based investors, including Sandwater, Alliance Ventures, and Skagerak Capital.
Robots on Twitter
Robot news | Part II - rollup
There’s so much more happening in the industry! Here's a curated list of recent funding rounds, exciting companies, and other noteworthy news.
📈 Hey look, robotics companies are being acquired!
SoftBank says it’s buying Berkshire Grey, a Bedford, Ma-based e-commerce robots maker that went public via SPAC in 2021. SoftBank already owns a 29% stake in the company and will pay $375 million in cash for the remainder at $1.40 per share.
SIG SAUER Acquires General Robotics, an Israel-based technology defense company that develops robots and remote weapon systems. This is part of SIG Sauer’s effort to become a one-stop shop for land systems: weapons, ammunition, optics, research and development and now remote weapon systems.
⛏️ Picks & Shovels
CaPow raised $7.5M in seed funding led by IL Ventures, with co-investment from Mobilion VC, Payton Planar Magnetics, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures, Mobilitech Capital, and individual investor Ray Nissan. The startup provides a continuous power delivery solution for automated mobile robots in warehouses and logistics facilities. Founded in 2018, it is based in Be’er Sheva, Israel.
Passion Intelligence raised $14.6M in a Series B round led by SAIF Partners, joined by China Securities Investment and Yinxinggu Capital. Passion IoT makes materials handling solutions for fabs and warehouses, including semiconductor automatic material handling systems (AMHS), wafer cassette storage equipment, solder paste storage and warming cabinets, automated guided vehicles, and sorting robots. It also offers manufacturing execution system (MES) and warehouse management system (WMS) software. Founded in 2006, it is based in Suzhou, China.
Yuhai Technology raised $1.5M in seed financing from Xiaomiao Longcheng. Yuhai Tech offers CAE simulation software. Its products range from serial simulation software aimed at small to medium business to large-scale parallel computing and numerical simulation for industrial applications. The company is primarily focused on semiconductors, medical devices, robotics, and construction machinery. Founded in 2019, it is based in Shanghai, China.
Adaps Photonics raised $14.6M in a Series C+ round from CoStone Capital and others. Adaps Photonics develops single photon avalanche detector (SPAD) direct time-of-flight (dToF) sensor chips for applications such as mobile phones, smart home, AR/VR, robots, and automotive lidar and cockpit sensing. Based in Shenzhen, China, it was founded in 2018.
Lingtu Technology received $1.5M in Series A financing from Changjiang Industrial Investment Group and Yichang State-Owned Investment Group. The startup makes photoelectric sensors and lidar systems for applications such as IoT, consumer robots, warehouse robots, smart city, retail, and automotive. Founded in 2017, it is based in Wuhan, China.
WaVue Photonics raised $1.5M in angel investment from ZhenFund. WaVue is developing monocular 3D visual perception technology using optical metasurfaces and computational imaging algorithms. The startup’s camera can acquire high-precision and dense 3D point clouds in real time for applications such as robots, drones, biometrics, consumer electronics, and automotive. Founded in 2022, it is based in Beijing, China.
CVA Chip raised $14.6M in Series B funding led by Fulcrum Investments, joined by Virtue Capital, Sumin Investment, Hui Capital, and Tsinghua Holdings Capital. CVA Chip develops sensors and edge computing chips for mobile phone, IoT, and automotive markets. Based in Shenzhen, China, it was founded in 2018.
👩🏽🔬 Researchers gonna research
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have created soft robots that can seamlessly shift from walking to swimming, for example, or crawling to rolling. The bistable actuator is made of 3D-printed soft rubber containing shape-memory alloy springs that react to electrical currents by contracting, which causes the actuator to bend.
Self-healing conductive gel could make "soft robots" truly soft. Developed by a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, the material is fully capable of conducting a robust electrical current, but it can be stretched up to 400% of its relaxed length without breaking. Additionally, if a piece of the material is sliced in two, it can both mechanically and electrically heal itself back into one piece.
These Researchers Used AI to Design a Completely New 'Animal Robot' called “Xenobots”. Xenobots are living, swimming self-powered robots that measure less than a millimeter across. They are evolved by artificial intelligence and built out of frog stem cells—and they could open new medical frontiers.
💰 Investors gonna invest
The German government launched the DeepTech & Climate Fonds (DTCF) with backing of $1,098.8M to invest in German and European deep tech and climate tech companies in the rapid growth phase. It will invest up to $33.0M in each company, with focus sectors including industry 4.0 and IoT, robotics, AI, quantum computing, blockchain, process automation, new energy, and certain biotech areas.
Amadeus Capital Partners and Apex Ventures made the first close, at $29.8M, of a fund that will invest in early-stage deep tech startups. The Amadeus APEX Technology Fund, which plans to raise $85.1M, will invest $1.1-1.6M in seed and Series A stage companies in AI and ML, quantum technologies and photonics, mobility and space innovation, autonomous systems and robotics, and other emerging areas. It will focus on companies in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
📅 Upcoming robotics events
This is a new section this week - highlighting upcoming places amazing robotics companies and customers might be! AlleyCorp Robotics will be at a number of these - let us know if you’re attending and want to connect.
ROBOTICS SUMMIT & EXPO: 10–11 MAY 2023, BOSTON
ICRA 2023: 29 MAY–2 JUNE 2023, LONDON
ROBOCUP 2023: 4–10 JULY 2023, BORDEAUX, FRANCE
RSS 2023: 10–14 JULY 2023, DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA
IEEE RO-MAN 2023: 28–31 AUGUST 2023, BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA
CLAWAR 2023: 2–4 OCTOBER 2023, FLORIANOPOLIS, BRAZIL
HUMANOIDS 2023: 12–14 DECEMBER 2023, AUSTIN, TEXAS
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And that’s a wrap!
Thanks for reading 1 and keep building!
[∵┌]└[ ∵ ]┘[┐∵]┘ 2
Footnotes (because we’re nerds, and love footnotes!)
1 You’re receiving this email because you were signed up for it using our prior newsletter system - we’ve imported our friends of the fund into Substack now, so you can manage your subscription using this system moving forward.
2 Going ASCII old-school with the emojis - this here is known as a “robot party”. Alternate ASCII robomoji include this happy fellow - d[o_0]b - and this friendly robot - └|▽▽|┐