Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

‘Growing confidence in robotics’ leads to $2.7 billion in venture capital funding, says report

2017 was a bumper year for robotics investment, with even more funds to come, according to a report by ABI Research

The robotics industry continued to go from strength to strength as 2017 represented the largest year of investment, with the total amount adding up to $2.7 billion, according to ABI Research, a market-forecast advisory firm.

Rian Whitton, research analyst at ABI Research, says: “While the growth in investment from 2016 to 2017, at 23.2 per cent, slowed from growth between 2015 and 2016, this was affected by applying a narrower understanding of robotics, leaving out categories like autonomous cars.

“Had the same definition of robotics been used as in previous years, total investment would have exceeded $5 billion.” 

Given the narrower definition, the sizeable increase in investment is a further indication of the growing confidence in the robotics industry, and the sense of urgency investors have in funding these key technologies.

In analyzing the geography of the 152 companies that received investment, there were striking differences to 2016.

While in terms of the number of investments were largely similar, with the US retaining over half the number of individual investments and China following a distant second, when cumulative investment was considered, the US had lost significant market share, accounting for 49.4 per cent of funding ($1.4 billion) as opposed to 63 per cent in the previous year.

Despite accounting for only 11 per cent of the individual investments, Chinese companies took 37 per cent of total funding.

When breaking down the regional and municipal locations of companies that attract investment, they are heavily centralized in both the US and China.

In the former, California (the San Francisco Bay area, in particular) and to a lesser extent, Massachusetts, dominate.

In China, investments are moving primarily to Shenzhen and Beijing, the two centers of the China robotics industry.

Whitton says: “Perhaps the most exciting news from the 2017 investment monitor is what it reaffirms.

“Not only is interest in robotics is growing, but funding is being directed to areas of nascent development, rather than comparative safe bets in process and discrete manufacturing.”

Over $500 million was invested into commercial and consumer health robotics, while close to $500 million went to autonomous mobile robots specifically designed to function outdoors, a major expansion on the increasing popularity of automated mobile robots in indoor locations like warehouses.

Among the market verticals of the automated mobile robots that received funding included construction, a currently untapped market for robotics.

Other areas of outside investment included agriculture and last-mile delivery, including companies like Starship Technologies and Nuro.

Although often overlooked in market analyses, consumer robotics saw significant investment, with over $800 million worth of funds directed to companies designing products for the home.

75 per cent of these were directed to toy robots and personal “smart” robots. This was impacted heavily by a choice number of significant investment into Chinese consumer robotics companies such as UBTech.

Robotics investment has accelerated since 2015, and 2017 will not be the end of this trend, with current evidence already suggesting 2018 will represent another year of success for robotics companies seeking funding.