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The Top 14 Successful Robotics Startups Last Year

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill. Last updated on Feb 15, 2017 8:00 AM
Posted on Feb 15, 2017 7:00 AM. 6 min read time

Last year was the best year so far for robotics startup fundings. Here are some of the most successful new companies from 2016 plus a few of our favorite top-performers.

3059446-inline-i-1-siemens-is-building-an-army-of-spider-robot-factory-workers.jpgThe Robot Report recently published it's yearly review of robotics startups, and things look very promising. Investors spent 50% more in 2016 than they did in 2015, funding a total of 128 companies. According to Frank Tobe, it was the best year ever for robotics startups.

The other day, we published the article "Six Tips to Launch a Robotics Startup in 2017", which gives some advice to early stage startups. In this article, we look at some of the most successful startups from 2016, in terms of funding and acclaim.


The Most Successful Categories of Robotics Startup

In Frank Tobe's article, he breaks down the 128 fundings by category. There are 21 in total (including a large "Miscellaneous" category) but the top three categories are:

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (25 companies, 20% of total)
  • Agricultural (15 companies, 15% of total)
  • Self-driving vehicles (9 companies, 7% of total)

It isn't surprising that there are so many startup fundings in UAVs and self-driving vehicles. There has been a lot of buzz around these in the last couple of years. Also, agricultural robots have definitely been on the rise in 2016 — we reported on some of them back in October.

Five Fantastic Fundings of Robotics Startups in 2016

Of course, there is startup funding and then there's "Startup Funding!" Even though there were a lot of players in the UAV market, some of the biggest investments were from other sectors.

These are the five biggest fundings we saw from last year:

  1. Velodyne LiDAR (150 million USD) — As the name suggests, Velodyne make LiDAR sensors, mainly for the self-driving car industry but the sensors have a lot of other applications.
  2. Zymergen (100 million USD) — This is an interesting one. Zymergen is a biotech company which aims to bring together data science, automation and biology. Imagine a robot cutting a DNA strand and then splicing it back together — that's how I imagine it anyway.
  3. UBTech (90 million USD) — UBTech is a consumer social robotics company, whose Alpha 1S made news in April last year when 540 of them broke the world record for "the most robots dancing simultaneously." It's victory was short-lived, however, as Ever Win Company Ltd broke the record in August with 1007 dancing QRC-2 robots.
  4. Quanergy Systems (90 million USD) — Quanergy is another LiDAR startup, this time focusing on smart sensing.
  5. Carbon 3D (81 million USD) — Carbon 3D is a 3D printing company with a quite unique process using liquid polymer. Instead of building up parts layer-by-layer — as traditional stereolithography printers do — it uses a technique called Continuous Liquid Interface Production, which produces much more consistent parts.

These fundings mark the heavy end of the startup world in 2016, but there were 123 other fundings, which you can find in the Robot Report article.

Five Winning Startups From Pitchfire and Robot Launch

startups.pngOf course, funding revenue isn't the only way to judge the success of a startup. One mark of success is to be shortlisted at a pitching event. A few of the important events in robotics are:

These events are kind of like competitions, with shortlists, finalists and a eventual winner.

The winners last year were:

  • Pitchfire 2016 — The Kobi Company. A modular gardening robot. It has three modules: one to mow the lawn, another to clear snow and a third to blow leaves.
  • Pitchfire Europe 2016 — Shape Robotics IVS. An educational modular robotics kit aimed at classrooms. They have set their price point close to the Lego Mindstorms system, which is also used in schools.
  • Robot Launch 2016 — ViDi Systems. This is the first non-hardware robotics startup in this post, but it is a very interesting one for us. They apply deep learning to vision for industrial inspection and classification.
  • Odense Robotics Award — Robomotive. The Odense Startup hub chose another vision-related startup as the best in Europe this year. Robomotive provides turnkey robotics solutions by applying 3D vision to industrial robots.
  • Robohub Reader Award — UniExo. Andra Kay, the Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, presented the Robot Launch shortlist to the readers of Robohub at the end of September. They went against the judges decision and picked UniExo, a modular exoskeleton for rehabilitation.

However, winning isn't everything and these events are worthwhile for any new robotics startup looking for networking, visibility and/or investment.


Four of our Favorite Startups From 2016

robot_money.pngHere are four of the other startups which caught our eye from the shortlists last year:

  • Blue Danube — This team from Vienna have made a cool protective skin for collaborative robots, called Air Skin. They were shortlisted for Pitchfire Europe.
  • Hebi Robotics — We love funky demos and Hebi Robotics (also from Pitchfire Europe) is well worth a look. Their X-Series smart actuator contains sensors for position, velocity, torque and inertia, which they have turned into a few impressive demos.
  • Genesis Dimensions — This startup (which was shortlisted for Pitchfire) is trying to take 3D printing to a whole different level: 3D printing buildings! Using a huge robotic vehicle with telescopic arm, the company wants to build warehouses and homes using both additive and subtractive "printing." It looks like the hardware is still very much in the concept stage, but you've got to admit it's an impressive idea.
  • Foldimate — This startup from Israel presented at Robot Launch with one of those those rare products: an idea which both makes you laugh and desperately want to try it out at the same time. It's a laundry robot which both folds and steams your clothes.

We're looking forward to seeing what startups turn up this year! Have you got a startup idea of your own? Make sure to read Six Tips to Launch a Robotics Startup in 2017.

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Which robotics startups caught your eye in 2016? What sectors do you think will dominate this year? Have you got an idea which you think would make a great startup (and don't want to keep it a secret)? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
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