Before the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the global economy with orders of lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, the robotics industry received $46 billion in funding. A total of $17.8 billion was earmarked to acquisitions and the $29 billion went into investments, according to recent figures published by global tech advisory firm ABI Research.
Two of the world’s biggest economies, China and the United States, account for 89% of all investment value, in terms of companies located in their various tech clusters. The state of California alone hosts 77 robotics vendors that were invested in, while the rest of the US had 88 companies. Other countries with considerable investment included Canada, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
“Despite not having commercialized their technology, autonomous passenger vehicle developers like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox, and company have continued to amass enormous funding from the corporate and VC (venture capital) world,” said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research.
Aside from venture capitalists, a few major corporations have taken a significant interest in automation technologies, including Amazon with their investment in vision-based navigation developer Canvas Technology. Japanese corporation Softbank made a considerable investment in a variety of robot companies, including robotics service provider CloudMinds, hospitality robot developer Bear Robotics, and fulfillment automation company Berkshire Grey.
Drones, ground robots
FLIR, the thermal camera manufacturer, also invested heavily in drones and ground robots to shore up its solutions for security and industrial inspection. Among their acquisitions include Aerodyne Group and Endeavour Robotics, formerly part of iRobot.
“Major corporations understand that, while the robotics industry isn’t a short-term proposition, it will be the source of considerable productivity growth that will be necessary to compete in the future,” said Whitton.
The localization of funds to a few specific sectors is down both to the anticipated effect of the technology and the relative market power of major auto manufacturers like Toyota, health companies like Johnson & Johnson and E-retailers such as Amazon.
“Surgical robots also received huge funding, and have already been commercialized to a considerable extent, with Intuitive Surgical selling over 5,000 Da Vinci robot systems to date,” said Whitton.
Despite the scale of funding in 2019 growing considerably from the previous year, the impact of COVID-19 will likely mean it will be more challenging for many vendors to attract funding as investors wait to assess the likely scale of the economic downturn. Markets with easy route commercialization, like surgical robots and warehouse automation, could benefit from the crisis.
The autonomous passenger vehicle market could be adversely affected due to lack of business-readiness, though this has not prevented big investments in APV developers like Pony AI and Waymo in the first quarter.