Robotics is one of the most advanced and emerging technologies in the age of digitization. It deals with the design, construction, operation and the use of robots. Looking at its history, the starting point of robotics dated back to 400 BC, when Mathematician Archytas created the first steam-powered mechanical bird. But the research and development in robotics took place in the mid-20th century, majorly within an industrial environment where repetitive movements and lifting heavy objects used machines.
Today, robots have come to play a prevalent and crucial role in a wide array of industrial operations. There are different type of robots including quadruped, cobots, humanoids, and more. And these kinds of robots are being used from manufacturing, heavy-duty industries, agriculture, aviation, and hospitals, to retail, restaurants, entertainment and even in homes.
Investment in Robotics
The field of robotics is still in its growing phase as every day some new innovations and developments befall out there. With this pace of breakthroughs, the field is enticing a series of funding and financial investments. During the first half of 2019, companies in this space raised over US$15.6 billion. And technology for autonomous vehicles and robots, and intelligent systems in healthcare proved as the winners.
So, here we have accumulated the list of top robotics investments.
Amount Funded: $2.6 Billion
Transaction Type: Venture
Lead Investor: Volkswagen Group
Agro AI, a self-driving technology platform, which works with leading automakers to deliver a fully integrated autonomous driving system, clinched a staggering amount of $2.6 billion from Volkswagen AG. Agro AI self-driving system that can be manufactured for safe and reliable deployment in ride-sharing and goods delivery services. With the support of its first customers and partners, Volkswagen and Ford, Agro AI’s self-driving technology is poised to move people and goods around the world.
Amount Funded: $1 Billion
Transaction Type: Venture
Lead Investor: SoftBank Vision Fund
Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), a self-driving car unit of Uber, raised US$1 billion in April 2019. The round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund, Denso and Toyota where SoftBank invested US$333 million and Denso and Toyota invested US$667 million combined. SoftBank is already Uber’s largest shareholder, while Toyota invested US$500 million last year in the company. The investment values the Advanced Technologies Group at US$7.25 billion and develops a newly formed corporate entity with its own board.
Amount Funded: $600 Million
Transaction Type: Series B
Lead Investor: SK China, SK Hynix
Horizon Robotics is the leader of embedded AI that develops artificial intelligence chips for robots. In February 2019, this Chinese AI chip maker secured US$600 million in its latest Series B funding round, which brought its valuation to US$3 billion. The round was led by SK China, SK Hynix, along with additional investors. Horizon Robotics plans to make use of the fresh capital toward continued product and technology development.
Luminar Technologies Inc.
Amount Funded: $100 Million
Transaction Type: Venture
Lead Investor: G2VP
Luminar Technologies, an autonomous vehicle sensor and software company, which powers every autonomous vehicle by delivering the LiDAR technology capable of making them safe and ubiquitous. In July 2019, the company raised US$100 million to boost its LiDar system. This venture funding round led the company’s valuation to US$250 million. Based in Palo Alto, CA, Luminar’s new Iris sensors will be ready to launch commercially on production vehicles rolling out in 2022. The latest funding round was led by G2VP, alongside other investors.
Robotics Mergers & Acquisitions
The year 2019 was the busiest year from the perspective of robotics M&A deals, where most robotics and tech companies poured billions of dollars in funding and investment in order to acquire others to accelerate and expand their business. Today, the M&A segment has become a vital asset for businesses to compete with others. In this way, industry reports indicate that investments in robots, self-driving vehicles, and related systems accounted for at least US$1.3 billion in March 2019. Conversely, automation companies reported US$7.8 billion in mergers and acquisitions last month.
Let’s have a look at top M&A deals that driven the robotics sector to the next level.
Airbus – MTM Robotics
In late December 2019, Airbus SE, a European multinational aerospace company, acquired MTM Robotics, the manufacturer and provider of portable tools and systems to the aerospace industry. For Airbus, the acquisition is the latest step in its industrialization roadmap, intended at leveraging the time- and cost-saving benefits associated with using robotics in the manufacture and assembly of commercial aircraft. According to Airbus, as a subsidiary of Virginia-based Airbus Americas Inc., MTM Robotics will retain its current leadership and 40-employee staff at the 10,000-square-foot Mukilteo facility.
Hitachi – JR Automation
Hitachi has recently completed its acquisition of JR Automation, a leading provider of intelligent automated manufacturing technology solutions, for US$1.42 billion. However, the agreement to acquire JR Automation was announced in April 2019. With JR Automation’s robotic system integration capabilities, combined with Hitachi’s digital solutions and technologies, Hitachi can provide customers with new, unparalleled value by connecting the whole process. Also, the company can now provide its customers with seamless solutions, connecting the entire value chain with data to achieve total optimization.
Siemens Healthineers AG – Corindus Vascular Robotics
Siemens Healthineers AG acquired a leading developer of precision vascular robotics, Corindus Vascular Robotics Inc, for US$1.1 billion. With this deal, Massachusetts-based Corindus has become a part of the Advanced Therapies reporting segment. The acquisition also opens up a new field for Siemens’ Advanced Therapies business, tapping into adjacent growth markets with great potential for the future. Siemens is also taking an important step forward in the upgrading phase of its 2025 strategy.
J&J – Auris Health
Johnson & Johnson (J&J) subsidiary Ethicon has closed a US$3.4 billion acquisition of Auris Health, a surgical robotics developer. Under the deal, Auris Health is eligible for up to US$2.35 billion in additional contingent payments, relying on the accomplishment of select predetermined milestones. After this deal, J&J plans to leverage Auris Health’s Monarch Platform to enlarge its digital portfolio across a variety of surgical specialties, which is currently used in lung diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.
Developments & Innovations in Robotics
Continuous innovation is a core of machines that have long shifted from research labs to venture into new spheres. These robotic machines now have entered the medical sector, automotive, retail, and other fields. The major features why robots are largely being used across industries are relying heavily on its prone to fewer errors, require less downtime, and are cost-efficient.
Almost each industry today is making use of various types of robots, including flying robots SmartBird robotic seagull and the Raven surveillance drone for Aerospace; Consumer robots like the Roomba vacuum and AI-enabled robot assistants; Drones; Educational robots like EMYS; Entertainment robots like RoboThespian, Navi Shaman, and musically inclined bots like Partner.
Also, several types of robotics have been developed in this century such as Exoskeletons for physical rehabilitation or disabled people; Industrial robots for factory and heavy manufacturing hubs; Medical robots for complex surgeries; Military and security robots, Telepresence robots for connecting distant people; Humanoids for mimicking humans and performing several complex tasks that is done by humans.
Let’s have a look at some top real-life robotic innovations and developments in the world.
Sofia – The Humanoid Robot
Sophia, a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics, which is capable of holding a conversation. This humanoid robot was activated in February 2016 and made her first public appearance at South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in mid-March 2016 in Austin, Texas. Sophia analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future. The company has designed Sophia to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, or to assist crowds at large events or parks.
Samsung Bot Care
Electronic giant Samsung launched a fleet of consumer robots that can help users to monitor their health. Bot Care is one of them which is able to measure users’ blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and sleeping state. It can also remind them when it’s time to take their medicine. During its launch at CES 2019, Bot Care rolled out on stage and engaged in a short conversation and when a member placed a finger on its digital face, it checked his blood pressure and heart rate.
Loomo – a Two-Wheeled Self-Balancing E-Vehicle
Loomo is a mobile robot sidekick and mini personal transporter from Segway Robotics, a company backed by Intel and Xiaomi. Loomo includes a lot of features into its self-balancing frame and runs with a top speed of 11 miles per hour and up to a 22-mile range on a single charge. This two-wheeled device can also be controlled with a smartphone app. And with an advanced computer vision system, Loomo can follow a person autonomously, shoot stabilized video, and do more.
Kuri – an Intelligent Robot for Home
Kuri is a robot for the home designed with personality, awareness of its surroundings and the power to move about the house freely. With Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 1080p cam and sturdy wheels designed to traverse any interior flooring, Kuri has a lot going for it. It is designed to fit into the home and entertain family member and their loved ones, play music and capture special moments. This nanny-like robot is also capable of reacting to sound, touch and even has a lighting system that lets its users know what mood it’s in. Developed by the Bosch-backed startup Mayfield Robotics, Kuri can set reminders and by using a Wi-Fi connection, it can tell users about the weather.
LG Rolling Bot
LG Rolling Bot is a hybrid security system, smart home device that can roll around the home capturing images and videos. Users can remotely control this ball-shaped device through his/her phone and receive video and audio footage of what’s happening while they are away from their house. The bot can also connect and interact with other smart-home devices like TV and lights, through Bluetooth and the home’s Wi-Fi network. LG Rolling Bot can be used as a security monitoring system for the home or a companion for the pets.
Foldimate – a Laundry Folding Machine
Foldimate is one of the smart home technologies that automatically folds clothes. It can virtually fold almost any type of garment without any problems, except for larger pieces such as sheets or large towels. Created by the US-Israeli company Foldimate, this laundry folding machine is about two-thirds the size of a washing machine. Users just need to simply hang or clip the shoulder area of the shirt on two hooks, afterward, the device pulls the shirt in and in a series of rollers and arms that also move up-down-sideways straighten and fold the item of clothing.
Pepper – a Semi-Humanoid Robot
Developed by SoftBank Robotics, Pepper is in its first kind of robot that can read human emotions. This semi-humanoid robot is built to connect with people, assist them, and share knowledge with them. With its friendly and engaging nature, Pepper can create unique experiences and form real relationships. It is even capable of having a conversation with people, giving them directions, and can dance with them. With a 4-foot-tall, interactive, and ability to read emotions, Pepper is being used by several companies to communicate with customers.
Top Robotics Companies in the World
As robotics defines intelligence in its vibrant style, developments and advancements in robotics technology around the world are continuously increasing. There is rarely an industry anywhere that didn’t improve by robotics. Several companies in this space are growing at a rapid pace, offering different types of opportunities for those who are aware of them. These companies often perform automatic and computerized tasks in higher volume, which is reliable and done securely to confiscate the fatigue level from humans.
Here is the list of top innovative companies in the field of robotics.
Epson Robots is the leader in the industrial robotics market with its leading factory automation products and solutions. It offered the world with the first PC-based controller called the RC520 and was the first in offering Active X controls. Epson Robots delivers high-performance products, services and solutions that exceed its customers’ expectations. The company is a branch of Japanese corporation Seiko Epson and is leading in PC controlled precision factory automation.
Boston Dynamics, an American engineering and robotics design company, specializes in building dynamic robots and software for human simulation. Headquartered in Massachusetts and founded in 1922, the company is known for its unique robot designs and engineering works. BigDog is Boston Dynamics’ best design that was funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and designed for the American military.
Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based AI and robotics company, which builds socially intelligent machines that enrich the quality of human lives. The company’s innovations in AI research and development, experiential design, robotics engineering, storytelling and material science bring robots to life as engaging characters, useful products, and as evolving AI.
Vex Robotics is majorly focused on making tools for students, educators and mentors to facilitate problem-solving. The company’s goal is to create engaging, affordable, and powerful solutions that engage students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through the eagerness of developing and programming educational robotics kits. The company has three products – VEX IQ, the VEX Robotics Design System, and VEXpro. Vex Robotics also teams up with the non-profit Robotics Education & Competition Foundation to support the world’s largest and fastest-growing competitive robotics program for elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges around the world.
iRobot is an American technology company, which designs and develops behavior-based AI robots. Founded in 1990 by three MIT graduates, the company’s home robots assist people to find smarter ways to clean and accomplish more in their daily lives. Its portfolio of solutions features proprietary technologies for the connected home and advanced concepts in navigation, mobility, manipulation and AI.
The leading manufacturer of robotic systems, KUKA Robotics offers a wide array of industrial robots and robotic systems, which covers all common payload categories and robot types. Founded in 1898 and based in Berlin, Germany, the company provides automation solutions tailored to its customers’ applications and industries and develops robotic systems for individual needs. KUKA Robotics also offers a comprehensive range of services, such as collaborative planning and more to assist its customers to realize the full potential of its products.
DJI is a China-based technology company, which develops and manufactures innovative drone and camera technology for commercial and recreational use. The company ensures high-end professional photography experience. Besides this, it focuses on drones and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) manufacturing. DJI’s flying and camera stabilization systems redefine camera placement and motion.
Top Industries Making Use of Robotics
Since robotics technology influences each aspect of work and mimic human actions, it is widely used across industries ranging from manufacturing, retail and automotive to earth and space exploration, laboratory and healthcare. Robotics continues to evolve as a large and influential market as it has the capability to positively revolutionize lives and work practices, increase efficiency and safety levels and provide enhanced levels of service.
Thus, here is the list of industries that rapidly utilize robots.
Leveraging robots in the field of healthcare is not new as in 1985 there was a plan to transform industrial robots into precision machines for surgery and beyond. But the appearance of the Da Vinci robotic system in early 2000 opens the way of robotic technology in medical. Today, robots are used for complex surgery, rehabilitation, therapy, patient companionship, among other areas. Even they are providing improved accuracy, precise diagnosis, remote treatment, and boosting human capabilities and performing daily tasks efficiently.
In today’s factories, robots can be seen working together with human workers, making tedious tasks and freeing up humans to do more valuable works. Currently, most robots are used in manufacturing operations for material handling, processing operations, and assembly and inspection. These robots are generally called industrial robotis that provides a substitute for the human workforce. Most manufacturers are even using cobots (Collaborative Robots), designed to work alongside humans in a shared space. As driven by AI, cobots can learn from their human counterparts, which is a powerful feature that opens up new possibilities for manufacturers.
The agriculture sector nowadays is quickly becoming a high-tech industry, luring new professionals, companies and investors. The sector is now utilizing AI and robotics technology to improve productivity while lowering overall costs. Farmers have already been using tractors and harvesters that are self-guided by GPS. There has also been a rise in the experimental use of autonomous systems automating operations like pruning, thinning, mowing, spraying, and weed removal.
In an effort to secure borders from suspicious or terror activities, most countries’ military forces are making use of some kind of robotics technology. Currently, the majority of military robots are tele-operated and are just used for investigation, surveillance, sniper detection, neutralizing explosive devices, and more. In this way, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are one of the military robotics systems that are widely used for surveillance activity. Now with technological advancements, the system is used to drop missiles. The U.S. military is already using UAVs to conduct surveillance and drop missiles on suspected terrorist places.
As the advancements in technology are on the rise, robots are now entered in restaurants and are expected to soon be available in kitchens. In restaurants, robots are majorly used for processing foods and warmly serving customers. These food manufacturing robots perform dispensing, feed placement, cutting, packaging or casing of food, and pick-and-placing products into containers. Even some companies are developing robots that can make burgers, cook hundreds of meals, juice, and more. Spyce is one such robotic system that prepares fast-casual bowled meals in its robotic kitchen.
As the AI technologies are still focused on solving real-world issues, these have been now seen in a whole different world of science fiction movies. Today, most movies are depicting AI and robots as good as well as a threat to mankind. Recently released Hollywood movie Terminator: Dark Fate, which is the sixth film of Terminator movie franchise, featured a super-intelligent Terminator. Also, there are several movies that featured AI and robotics, including Alita: Battle Angel, Wandering Earth, Hi, AI, among others.