Increase in Robotics Startup Funding Disrupts Industries

Increase in Robotics Startup Funding Disrupts Industries

By Heidi Reidel

In 2016, robotics startup companies received 50% more funding than they did the previous year, marking the best year ever for robotics startup funding. The word “robot” brings to mind the image of humanoid, sci-fi robots, but robotics is a broad spectrum. So, where is this money going and what industries are affected by this rise in robotics funding?

Robotics Startup Funding Disrupting Healthcare

Robotics has started to disrupt the healthcare industry. The medical robot market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.43% from 2016 to 2021. It is also forecasted that healthcare robot shipments will increase from approximately 3,400 units annually in 2016 to more than 10,500 units per year by 2021. China is soon to commercialize an orthopedic surgery robot called “Tianji.”  Cambridge Medical Robotics in the U.K. developed a robot system for keyhole surgery. Medtronic, a global medical technology, services, and solutions provider, bought and plans to purchase more shares of an Israeli company called Mazor Robotics, who is the leading developer of bone mounted surgical robotic guidance systems.

Solutions for the Agriculture Industry

The two biggest issues facing the agriculture industry today are labor availability and lack of fully effective automation. Advancements in robotics could prove to be the solution to these issues. John Deere is pioneering self-driving tractors, which would free farmers to apply labor elsewhere. The global agri-bots market is forecasted to reach $11.1 billion in 2020 and then explode to $30.8 billion in 2025, as farmbots are expected to increase productivity. Some farmers, however, remain skeptical that robotics will be a solution to the issue of labor, as robots have not yet advanced to the point where they can pick crops or interact with animals as effectively as humans.

Yet, there are other ways robotics are able to increase productivity in the agriculture industry. Sensors and drones can collect data in the field that provide valuable information about soil, seeds, livestock, crops, cost, farm equipment, and the use of water and fertilizer. The global agriculture drones market is predicted to grow at 37.1% per annum by unit shipment. Low-cost Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and advanced analytics can help farmers improve farm planning with data about weather, temperature, moisture, prices, etc.  IoT device installations are predicted to increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020. The agriculture industry collectively received the second largest amount of funding in 2016, when broken down into application area.

Autonomous Vehicles and Unmanned Aerial Systems

The recipient of the greatest sum of funding in 2016 was Velodyne LiDAR, who received $150 million. LiDAR is the technology that allows self-driving cars to see and avoid collisions. This is the same technology Uber uses in their autonomous vehicles. The funding was raised from Ford Motor Co. and Baidu. Of the 128 companies funded in 2016, quite a few were in the field of self-driving vehicles. The largest collective recipient of funding in 2016 by application area, however, were unmanned aerial systems companies.

Disrupting Other Industries

Manufacturing, surveillance, and 3D printing are also facing disruption. A Denmark based company called Blue Workforce has developed pick-and-place robots that can be used for packing, sorting, manufacturing, and stocking. Another Denmark based company called Universal Robots makes industrial robots that automate repetitive tasks while working alongside humans.  A Washington D.C. based company called Transcend Robotics developed robotics that can climb stairs and maneuver obstacles. They can be used in the mining industry to detect dangerous gases, construction companies for remote construction site surveillance, or by SWAT and bomb squads to analyze dangerous situations.

Formlabs, based in Somerville, Massachusetts and BOT Factory based in New York City are both making great strides with 3D printing. BOT Factory’s 3D printers are making it far more affordable and efficient to manufacture circuit boards. Formlab’s 3D printers allow for finer resolution than typical 3D printers.

Though each industry reports varied forecasts of growth, the robotics industry is expected to grow at a double-digit pace through 2022. Even humanoid robots, which seemed to be a thing of futuristic fantasy, are on the market today. Robotics startup funding is disrupting many industries, and as technology develops, they are sure to disrupt more.

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