Investments in robotics companies more than doubled in 2015

Steven Loeb · March 23, 2016 · Short URL:

The number of deals in this space have doubled in three of the last four years

We have kind of a weird relationship with robots. We're simultaneously fascinated by them, but we're also scared of them. We also don't trust them, and we're convinced that they will fundamentally change our world

Like them or not, automation is coming; that much is clear. All you have to do is look at how fast investments into robotics companies have grown in the past few years.

Deals in robotics nearly doubled in 2015, jumping from 45 in 2014 to 83, according to data out from CB Insights. The amount invested in these companies also more than doubled, growing 115 percent, from $273 million in 2014 to $587 million last year. 

What's most impressive is that deals in the robotics space have been nearly doubled in three of the last four years. In 2011 there were 13 deals that raised $155 million; that represents a 538 percent jump in deals and a 278 percent increase in dollars in that time frame.

The biggest funding round raised by a robotics company was Auris Surgical Robotics, which develops technology for medical applications. it raised $150 million from Lux Capital, Mithril Capital Management and NaviMed Capital.

If there's a downside to robotics funding, its that things fell apart at the end of the year, as most of the market did. While the third quarter saw a record-breaking $236 million invested, including the Auris round, funding dropped by 74 percent in the fourth quarter, even as deal activity stayed steady. 

The first quarter of 2016 has already surpassed that in the amount of funding raised, with $89 million, but has only seen 15 deals. 

CB Insights, it should be noted, isn't including drone companies in this data. 

Our relationship with robots

While VCs are putting their money into robots, regular people are busy worrying about what that means for them.

A Pew survey taken last month found that 65 percent of people think that that robots and computers will “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans within the next 50 years. Only 32 percent said it would "probably not," or "definitely not" happen.

Funny enough, a total of 80 percent of those surveyed also said that their job would "definitely" or "probably" still exist 50 years from now. Only 6 percent said that their job would "definitely not" exist.

With automation will come a whole host of new issues and problems for us to solve, including income inequality, which Khosla spoke about at our Splash last year. 

"I said we'd get abundance and income inequality increasing at the same time. And so the problem for society will be the one word we don't like in capitalism, which is income redistribution. My assumption is, in 50 years, we will have more than enough resources to pay everyone who doesn't want to work $50 grand a year or more, in equivalent dollars, to say, 'Now you can work on the things you want to, whether they are productive from an income standpoint or not,'" he said.

"I'm telling you what society's problem will be. This is a nuanced distinction. I personally believe we have to do something about income inequality. What that is, whether it's redistribution or something else, is a much more complex question."

Of course, not all robotics companies are creating machines to replace workers; plenty are making robots that will make life easier, like Auris. Still, it's hard to not get the feeling that a big change is coming, and the world is going to look a lot different very soon.

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