The Weekend Wrap By Funders USA Edition | 2021

The Weekend Wrap
By Funders USA

2021 is already shaping up to be an exciting year. Major financial players are investing in AI and Robotics, and the industries are booming more than ever. We’re here to provide you with a rundown on some of the latest news and trends for May 2021.

Let's talk about

  • Bezos
  • Your Neighborhood Robot
  • Spotting Covid
  • Swarms of Drones

Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash
Bezos is Back
Slowly but surely, the world is returning to a state of normalcy—as normal as an ever-changing world can be, anyway. For those of us watching the financial world, COVID-19 has taught us an important lesson: tech is unstoppable.

Nearly a year ago, Amazon warned shareholders about potential losses due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, a mere three months later, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reported they had actually doubled their profits.

What does this mean for the world going forward? The extreme pressure exerted on people to use digital and e-commerce platforms was merely an acceleration. Though people are venturing back out into the world in droves, companies across the board have started to understand the way their customers are adapting to the future. AI tools are becoming more widespread, especially those pushing concepts like behavioral analytics and personalization.

Amazon may be the most newsworthy case, but they’re far from the only example. It’s likely we’ll see a massive push toward enterprises providing these technologies to other businesses in 2021.
Major Lift

This Massachusetts-based robotics company is on fire right now. A leader in autonomous mobile robots (AMR) for warehouse shipping, they announced $150 million in Series E funding back in February. Altogether, its valuation is now sitting around a healthy $1 billion.

In the light of recent controversies around warehouse working conditions (looking at you again, Amazon), the demand for flexible and reliable automation is at an all-time high. It’s no wonder that investors are pouring money into the company.

During the 2020 holiday season, LocusBots handled more than 70 million units for more than 40 customers in 80 warehouses around the world. In total, they’ve handled more than 300 million. Their robots utilize cutting edge AI technology in a collaborative process. It’s significantly increased productivity for their customers, and it seems the only way for them to go is up.

Unsurprisingly, major investors have taken notice. Tiger Global Management and BOND have primarily supplied the latest Series E funding. This is in addition to support from previous noteworthy investors including Scale Venture Partners and Prologis Ventures.

Keep an eye on Locus. There’s a solid chance you’ve received a packaged handled by their robots already.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Robot
Utilizing AI and robotics in factories is a pretty cool development in itself, but what about what happens to those packages after they’ve been processed? Truth is, every part of the supply chain is becoming increasingly run by AI. Personal Delivery Devices, or PPDs were already on the rise before the pandemic, but now the demand is higher than ever.

Last year, Amazon and FedEx began widespread testing of PPDs, going so far as to back state bills that would allow them to operate on city sidewalks across the nation. Many of the bills were denied due to safety concerns, but they passed in others with differing restrictions. Considering how practical and useful these robots have the potential to be, it’s only a matter of time before they’re found everywhere.

Before you start imagining these things traversing highways, we’ll specify that there is still a human component involved. Ideally, a van full of robots will pull into a neighborhood and stop, then unleash a legion of robots to deliver packages with an efficiency unrivaled by a mere human. How’s that for a sight to accompany your morning coffee?

Spot it Quick
Covid-19 has devastated the world from both a health and financial point of view. There’s no doubt that it is in our best interest to prevent something like this from happening again. What if AI could help us? After all, at the beginning of this whole nightmare, a Canadian startup called BlueDot was one of the earliest detectors of the outbreak. They spotted it a full nine days before the World Health Organization released its warning statement.

Scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden recently created an AI algorithm that is designed to contain the spread of pandemics, contain outbreaks, and devise new testing methods. Considering our current methods of containments are based around random testing, this promises to be a huge improvement. The studies have so far only been done in simulation, so it remains to be seen how well it will work in the real world. Even so, the possibilities are exciting.

It’s unclear what this means for AI and robotics investors, but there is no doubt that there is massive demand for technologies that can prevent another year like 2020.

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Your Next Vacation

Here’s a fun one for all you dreaming of exploring outer space someday. The Japanese startup Gitai has raised an impressive $17.1 million in recent Series B financing. Based in Tokyo, the company’s stated goal is to provide safe and reliable robotic labor to construct cities on the moon and Mars by 2040. It’s truly a futurist’s dream company.

Gitai claims that with robotic labor, the extremely expensive costs of space operations can be brought down one hundredfold. Currently, they offer three different robot models, but this recent investment is a big deal. Before it, they’d raised $5.5 million, so tripling their budget is likely to produce some exciting developments.

Key investors for Gitai include SPARX Innovation for the Future, The Space Frontier Fund, and DCI Venture Growth Fund. Most of the money will go toward hiring new staff, expanding business presence, and of course, further research and development.
A New Kind Of Truck Driver
We can’t bring up autonomous transportation technology without talking about Plus. This California-based developer of autonomous trucking technology recently raised a massive $200 million in Series B financing. Interestingly, much of the money came from Chinese sources. Guotai Junan International and Wanxiang International were two of the biggest contributors. Private equity investor CPE also pitched in.

While Baidu leads the way in personal transportation, Plus promises to change the shipping industry in a big way. Truck driver shortages have been a major challenge over the past several years, and Plus has quite a solution. They want to take their technologies to a global scale, tackling driver shortages and trucker accidents worldwide. Mass production of automated trucks will begin this year, and more than ten thousand have already been pre-ordered. We see no reason why this trend won’t continue to grow.
Coming in Drones
We have one last piece of investment news for you. AirTree Ventures, Energize Ventures, and several other VC groups have raised $50 million for cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform DroneDeploy.

DroneDeploy offers drone-based imagery and data analysis to companies in industries like agriculture, construction, and mining with key information to growing and maintaining their assets. 360-degree images can offer unprecedented insights into properties. They plan to use this money for expansion, so it remains an interesting and promising investment for all those involved.
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