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Industrial and Commercial Robotics Upside Investment

Some technology sector M&A activity is relatively immune to market disruptions. The robotics industry received significant investment in 2019, reaching $46 billion. A total of $17.8 billion went to acquisitions and a further $29 billion went into investments, according to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research.

Most of the funding was focused on autonomous passenger vehicles (APV’s), surgical robotics, and warehouse automation, with significant new growth for field robotics and drone services.

Robotics Technology Market Development

"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 world," said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research.

Surgical robots also received significant new funding, and have already been commercialized to a considerable extent, with Intuitive Surgical selling over 5,000 Da Vinci robot systems to date.

The localization of funds to a few specific sectors is related to the anticipated effect of the technology and the relative market power of major auto manufacturers such as Toyota, health companies such as Johnson & Johnson and E-retailers such as Amazon.

According to the ABI Research assessment, the United States and China account for 89 percent of all investment value, in terms of companies located in their various technology clusters. Other countries with considerable investment in robotics included Canada, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Aside from venture capitalists, a few major corporations have taken a significant interest in artificial intelligence and related automation technologies, including Amazon with their investment in vision-based navigation developer Canvas Technology.

Meanwhile, 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.

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.

Outlook for Robotics Technology Investment Growth

Markets with an easy route to commercialization, such as surgical robots and warehouse automation, could benefit from the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Also, 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 of 2020.

"Prior to the pandemic’s massive impact became clear, 2020 was already shaping up to be a strong year for robotics investment, with autonomous forklift and tow tractor developers Seegrid and Vecna already receiving funding," Whitton concludes.

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