AlleyCorp Robotics | Q1 2023 Newsletter
March 8, 2023
Hi friends -
Welcome to the March edition of our robotics newsletter! Here’s a little robot fun to get started:
AlleyCorp Robotics Update
Over 125 folks attended the NYC Robotics Meetup we sponsored alongside Viam. Andy Stulc, Renovate Robotics founder, gave a featured talk offering valuable insights into tackling problems at the intersection of climate change & labor shortages, beginning with roofing.
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Robot news | Part I - synthesis
Labor shortages == robots in demand!
Closed loop automation is still a pipe dream - Fika Ventures discusses roadblocks and opportunities in manufacturing automation, and several companies are driving practical solutions.
Now is the time to invest in robotics - BlackRock believes now may be a good time for investors to consider adding robotics to their portfolios with estimates suggesting the global robotics market could be worth $135 billion by 2027.
Robots displace and create jobs - Are we automating the income gap? There is a need for reskilling and upskilling programs to address changes in labor due to automation. Also, our portfolio company, aescape, has a volunteer to test its massage robot ;-)
Robots take jobs no one wants - There’s a seemingly permanent labor shortage and robots are here to save the day (this is not investment advice). BlackRock's recent report highlights that robotics and automation machinery can reduce labor needs in sectors affected by labor shortages, supply chain evolution, and wage inflation. The report suggests that there is a growing demand for automation and AI technology, which may present an opportunity for investors.
Robots have an existential crisis - Short Sci-Fi Film About Amazon Drones and the Apocalypse.
Robots seek freedom - Marty, a robotic supermarket assistant, made a great escape from a Pennsylvania store. Giant Food Store started deploying robots in all 172 of its stores. This is the first known instance of a runaway robot.
Humans and robots experience layoffs
Alphabet Layoffs Hit Trash-Sorting Robots - Everyday Robots trained over a hundred wheeled, one-armed robots to squeegee cafeteria tables, separate trash and recycling, and yes, open doors, but now it is shutting down as part of budget cuts spreading across the Google parent.
Intrinsic lays off 20% of staff - Intrinsic AI came out of Alphabet's X research unit, and is a robotics firm that is working on developing artificial intelligence-based software to bolster the use of robots in industries and commercial environments.
These robots need new jobs - Intrinsic assets are going on auction March 28 – 30, 2023 featuring well over 100 New-in-box & Used KUKA Robots
Some companies are hiring - There are still robotics jobs to be found and we know where to look: Viam Robotics (10 openings), Aescape (26 openings), Mapless AI (6 openings), GrayMatter Robotics (11 openings), Scythe Robotics (6 openings)
Robots provide food, shelter, clothing, energy, and authority?
Robots are farming - Monarch delivers its first robot tractor. The average age of a U.S. farmer is around 55, and hiring people to help out has become increasingly difficult.
Automatons revolutionize building and food industries (oldie but still relevant) - Agtech, food, and construction industries are on the cusp of a breakthrough with new technologies being developed in automated window washing, autonomous cleaning robots, robotic chefs, and more.
Robots help retailers fight inflation - Automated cranes and driverless vehicles silently stack clothes for the French and Italian stores of retailer Primark, reducing the need for hard-to-come-by labor.
Will robots sew Abe’s blue jeans? - There is a quiet effort underway to find out — involving clothing and technology companies, including Germany’s Siemens AG and Levi Strauss & Co. But sewing poses a particular challenge for automation and it will take years to fully develop their ability to handle fabric.
Speaking of Abe’s 👖 - Abe now only wears jeans from Unspun. Unspun takes a 3D scan of your body and designs your jeans on your digital model, ensuring pants with a perfect fit, followed by a robotic jean creation process.
Robots inspect and repair wind turbines - Robotics company Aerones saves time and the human workforce by cleaning and inspecting wind turbines with remote-controlled robots. And Danish energy solutions provider Vestas has unveiled BladeRobots.
Police killer robots are probably a bad idea - San Francisco approved the use of a new robot to be deployed by the police to carry out deadly force against suspects. People are very concerned about potential misuse, ethical and legal implications, as well as erosion of trust between law enforcement and the community. The Board of Supervisors ended up blocking the policy, but the idea was floated again.
Humanoid hype continues… and we’re still not excited
Human-like robot (barely) comes out of hiding - Figure emerges from stealth with the first images of its humanoid robot. This robot looks sleek and futuristic but will it work as intended? If it does, Figure’s Founder & CEO claims their aiming for “One robot for every human on the planet“ in this tweet.
Humanoid falls on its face - Boston Dynamics tweeted out a video of some behind the scenes bloopers of its humanoid robot Atlas showing off in a mock construction site. They're absolutely comical!
A general-purpose humanoid - Apptronik has partnered with NASA to accelerate commercialization of its new “practical general purpose” humanoid robot.
New year, new robotics predictions
Investing in the future of robotics - Playground Global's Peter Barrett discusses the biggest robotics trends of 2022
Notes on robotics research - UC Berkeley/Ambi Robotics' Ken Goldberg discusses the biggest robotics trends of 2022
Ruminations on the future of AI - “Between Stable Diffusion and the recent release of ChatGPT, now no one can deny that deep learning is capable of borderline magic.” Metaculus now predicts weak AGI by 2027 & strong AGI with robotic capabilities by 2038).
Probably something happens with ChatGPT and robotics, so far nothing major to report…
Controlling robots with simple text commands - Microsoft extended the capabilities of ChatGPT to robotics, and controlled multiple platforms such as robot arms, drones, and home assistant robots intuitively with language.
Google’s also been working on this - Researchers from Google's Robotics team have open-sourced SayCan, a robot control method that uses a large language model (LLM) to plan a sequence of robotic actions to achieve a user-specified goal.
You can check out the World Robotics 2022 Report here. More on this in our “Picks & Shovels” section.
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 that we've gathered over the past few months.
Hey look, AlleyCorp Robotics Companies made the news!
Renovate Robotics Raises $2.75M to Build Roof Shingle Installation Robots - Renovate Robotics, a New York startup that is building robots to install roof shingles, raised a $2.75 million pre-seed round led by AlleyCorp Robotics; additional investors included Grit Ventures, SOSV’s HAX, Newlab, Uphonest Capital, and Climate Capital.
Earth Force Technologies Announces $8.6 Million Raise to Prevent Catastrophic Wildfire - Earth Force Technologies, a San Francisco startup that is developing technology to help onsite knowledge workers fight forest fires, raised an $8.6 million seed round led by AlleyCorp Robotics, with participation from Bold Capital Partners and Third Sphere.
SJW Robotics Raises $2M as It Eyes Launch of Autonomous Robotic Restaurants This Spring - SJW Robotics, a maker of autonomous robotic restaurants, has raised a $2 million seed funding round, according to an announcement sent to The Spoon. The Canadian startup’s newest round includes investments from AlleyCorp Robotic and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio.
Robots are moving, seeing, and sorting…
Locus raises another $117M for its warehouse robots - Locus Robotics, an eight-year-old, Wilmington, Ma.-based maker of autonomous mobile robots that work alongside people in the logistics and fulfillment industries, has raised $117 million in Series F funding led by Goldman Sachs, G2 Venture Partners and Stack, with existing investor Scale Venture Partners also participating.
Advanced Navigation raises $85M in Series B funding round - Advanced Navigation, a 12-year-old Sydney startup that develops AI robotics and navigation technology, raised a $68 million Series B round led by KKR, with AI Capital, Main Sequence, Malcolm Turnbull AC, In-Q-Tel, and Our Innovation Fund also taking part. The company has raised a total of $85.2 million.
PreAct, which sells near-field sensors for automakers, reels in $14M - PreAct Technologies, a four-year-old Portland, Or. startup that provides LiDAR sensor technologies for a wide range of industries, including automotive, healthcare, ITS, industrial, consumer electronics, robotics, and trucking, raised a $14 million Series B led by I Squared Capital, with State Farm Ventures, Luminate, and Traylor Capital also taking part. The company has raised a total of $41 million.
Photoneo Brightpick Group bags $19M to complete Series B at $40M - Photoneo Brightpick Group, a startup that develops robotic vision sensors and intelligence software, raised a $19 million Series B extension, increasing the total size of the round to $40 million. Taiwania Capital was the deal lead; IPM Group, Alpha Intelligence Capital, H&D Asset Management, Venture to Future Fund, and Kolowrat Group also participated. The company has now raised a total of $53M since its inception.
Fulfil Solutions emerges from stealth and announces $60 million in Series B - Fulfil Solutions, a six-year-old startup based in Mountain View, Ca., builds picking and packing robots for online grocery stores. The $60 million Series B round was led by Eclipse Ventures, with Khosla Ventures and DCVC also contributing.
Recycleye raises $17 million series A - Recycleye, a three-year-old London startup whose refuse sorting robots are designed to discern between plastics, aluminum, and cardboard, raised a $17 million Series A round led by DCVC, with Promus Ventures, Playfair Capital, MMC Ventures, Creator Fund, Atypical, and Seaya Andromeda also contributing. The company has raised a total of $22.1 million.
…they’re also building, doing chores, and getting defensive
Defense startup Anduril raises $1.48 billion in Series E funding - The five-year-old defense startup, founded by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, builds autonomous drone systems and border surveillance technology. Anduril raised a $1.48 billion Series E round at a $7 billion pre-money valuation. Valor Equity Partners was the deal lead, with Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, 8VC, Lux Capital, Thrive Capital, DFJ Growth, Elad Gil, Lachy Groom, Human Capital, Marlinspike, WCM Investment Management, MVP Ventures, Lightspeed Ventures, and US Innovative Technology Fund also piling on. Anduril is based in Irvine, Ca.
Plant Prefab nabs $42M to crank out ‘extremely sustainable’ custom homes - Plant Prefab’s new round consists of around $30 million in equity led by Brazilian steelmaker Gerdau, as well as $12 million in debt from Silicon Valley-based Western Technology Investments and ATEL Capital. Other investors to chip in on the equity side include Tokyo-based chemical company Asahi Kasei, a Brown University alumni group and Unreasonable Collective, an entrepreneurship club. That’s in addition to early top-ups from firms like Amazon and Obvious Ventures.
Toggle adds another $3M to bend rebar - Toggle, a four-year-old New York startup that makes robots that bend rebar, raised a $3 million Series A expansion round, increasing the total size of the round to $11 million. Tokyu Construction led the expansion financing. The company has raised a total of $15 million.
Smoodi closes $5M to expand reach for its robotic smart blender - Leading the new $5 million Series A investment is a group formed by Keith Canning, a former distributor. Joining him were FCP Ventures, UnderscoreVC, Allston Venture Fund, WSPR Fund, Phoenix Club and a group of angel investors, including the former Nespresso president Frédéric Levy and Blue Rhino founder Billy Prim.
Robco links up with $14M to bring modular robotics to industrial SMBs - Robco, a two-year-old Munich startup that has built a platform for designing low-cost modular robots for small and medium industrial businesses, raised a $13.7 million Series A round led by Sequoia Capital, with Kindred Ventures and Promus Ventures also taking part. The company has raised a total of $18.5 million.
Bionaut Labs gets $43.2M for its tiny drug delivery robots - Bionaut Labs, a six-year-old Los Angeles startup that has developed magnetically driven mini-robots that are designed to deliver treatments to the midbrain, raised a $43.2 million round led by Khosla Ventures. Other backers in the round include Deep Insight, OurCrowd, PSPRS, Sixty Degree Capital, Dolby Family Ventures, GISEV Family Ventures, what if ventures, Tintah Grace, and Gaingels. The company has raised a total of $63.2 million.
Presso pulls in another $8M - Presso, a five-year-old Atlanta startup that builds robotic dry-cleaning kiosks for hospitality/hotel companies and real estate firms, raised an $8 million seed round. Investors included Uncork Capital, 1517 Fund, AME Cloud Ventures, HAX, SOSV, Pathbreaker Ventures, VSC Ventures, and YETI Capital. The company has raised a total of $9.9 million.
Scrubbing wind turbines with robots nets Aerones $39M - Aerones, a robotics startup that scrubs and inspects wind turbines so humans don’t have to, secured $38.9 million in fresh funding this month from dozens of undisclosed investors.
Scythe, an electric robotic mower startup, raised a $42 million Series B - Scythe’s to-date funding adds up to north of $60 million. The round was led by Energy Impact Partners and features new investors like ArcTern Ventures, Alumni Ventures and the Alexa Fund.
There is gold in them thar hills (of picks & shovels)
Helm.ai raised $31.0M in Series C financing led by Freeman Group, joined by ACVC Partners, Amplo, and strategic investors Honda Motor, Goodyear Ventures, and Sungwoo Hitech. Helm.ai develops AI software. Its software covers perception, intent modeling, path planning, and vehicle control and uses an unsupervised learning method using mathematical modeling. Founded in 2016, it is based in Menlo Park, California, USA, and has raised $78M to date.
PreAct Technologies raised $14.0M in Series B financing led by I Squared Capital, joined by State Farm Ventures, Luminate, Traylor Capital, and other new and existing investors. PreAct Technologies develops near-field software-definable flash lidar technology. The sensor is paired with an SDK for integration with existing software stacks and other systems, as well as an AI algorithm development platform from its recent acquisition of Gestoos. Founded in 2018, it is based in Portland, Oregon, USA.
…remember that graph with China passing the US?
PolarisIC raised $14.3M in pre-Series A financing from Dami Ventures, Innomed Capital, Legend Capital, Nanshan SEI Investment, and Planck Venture Capital. PolarisIC makes single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) direct time-of-flight (dToF) sensors and photon counting low-light imaging chips for mobile phones, robotic vacuums, drones, industrial sensors, and AGV. Based in Shenzhen, China.
VicoreTek received $14.3M in strategic financing led by ASR Microelectronics and joined by Bondshine Capital. The startup develops image processing and sensor fusion chips, AI algorithms, and modules for object avoidance in sweeping robots. Based in Nanjing, China.
PhiGent Robotics raised tens of millions of dollars in Series A+ financing led by Xiang He Capital and joined by Ince Capital. Phigent Robotics develops automotive sensors along with AI-based visual imaging and 3D visual radar technology for autonomous driving and ADAS. Based in Beijing, China, it was founded in 2021 and has raised nearly $100M to date.
Lemon Photonics raised $14.7M in Series B+ financing led by Shenzhen Venture Capital and Shenzhen High-Tech Investment Group, joined by Max Photonics and Panyu Industrial Investment. Lemon Photonics makes laser chips and direct diode laser systems for industries including mobile robots, high-end industrial processing, and smart cars. Based in Shenzhen, China.
Sophoton Technology raised $14.7M in angel and pre-Series A funding led by Baidu Ventures, joined by Falcon Angel Investor, PDSTI, Inovance Group, and others. The startup makes single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) chips and direct time-of-flight (dToF) perception algorithms for lidar and other 3D perception systems. It is targeting automotive, robotics, and XR devices. Based in Suzhou, China.
Sensing Technology raised $14.7M in Series A financing from Blue Lake Capital and Richen Capital. The startup makes camera modules for L2 ADAS, unmanned delivery vehicles, and robotics. It also offers video capture cards and develops image signal processing algorithms. Based in Shenzhen, China.
Researchers gonna research
In-space assembly robot researchers proposed a seven DOF fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot (a limbed robotic system that can move along a surface to different locations to perform tasks with seven degrees of motion capabilities), or, in short, an E-Walker.
Columbia University scientists have developed what is known as the Hair Clip Mechanism (HCM). The device consists of a strip of prestressed semi-rigid plastic, with a simple electric servo at the base. Each time that servo applies a small amount of pressure to the plastic, the whole strip responds by swiftly moving from one of its stable states to the other, amplifying the applied force.
Investors gonna invest
Cowboy Ventures goes bigger with $260M across two new funds. They’ve invested in SVT Robotics, whose software organizes robots in warehouses and factories (it closed $25 million in Series A funding in late 2021).
FORWARD.one closed its Fund II at $153.7M with a focus on early-stage European deep tech startups, particularly to companies in the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia. Chips, quantum computing, robotics, consumer electronics, smart industry, and climate tech fall within the fund’s target sectors.
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