Flexiv, a startup building ‘adaptive robots’ for use across multiple industries including food and agriculture, has raised over $100 million in Series B funding – which it claims is the “largest single-round fundraising ever in the field of general-purpose robotics.”
Among the investors participating in the round were New Hope Group, a Beijing-based agribusiness with a strong presence in animal husbandry, feed, and farm automation. ‘Super app’ Meituan, which offers meal delivery, restaurant bookings, and online grocery among other services, also invested alongside Gaorong Capital, GSR Ventures, Longwood, Meta Capital, Plug and Play, and YF Capital – an investment firm established by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.
Flexiv develops hardware and software for what co-founder and CEO Shiquan Wang calls ‘adaptive robots’ – machines that can closely imitate human dexterity and adaptability to changing environments, allowing them to carry out repetitive yet complex tasks that have typically been performed by humans but are beyond the capabilities of traditional industrial robots.
This is achieved through a combination of artificial intelligence and computer vision technologies along with something the startup refers to as “high performance force control” facilitated through sensors.
“Whether you realize it or not, the vast majority of our daily activities rely on our force-sensing and force control capabilities. Examples include mopping the floor, pushing a button, or inserting a plug into an electrical outlet,” Wang explained in a July 2019 article for Robotics Business Review.
“Force control has long been absent in robotic arms, making them incapable of performing most force-guided tasks […] force control provides feeling of touch and better dexterity, which facilitates more space for AI to [work successfully].”
Flexiv — which has offices in Beijing, Foshan, Shanghai, and Shenzhen in China, as well as in Silicon Valley in the US — unveiled its first robot, Rizon, in April 2019. Rizon’s robotic arm is able to complete production line tasks consistently even where there are uncertainties or disturbances to its positioning, which might affect less ‘smart’ industrial robots.
The startup has delivered around 100 robots to its customers to date, and plans to generate additional revenue through provision of after-sales services and software licensing. It previously raised $22 million in Series A funding back in late 2019.
In a statement, Wang said the Series B funds will be used to scale up production, carry out research and development, and for marketing activities.
“We will continue focusing on automation transformation of the manufacturing industry, while exploring new applications in a broader range of industries including services, agriculture, logistics, [and] medical care,” he added.
Flexiv’s Series B round, announced on New Year’s Eve, topped off an eventful couple of months in funding terms for Chinese agrifood automation startups. Guangzhou-based XAG reportedly raised $182 million from Baidu, SoftBank, and others in November to further expand its range of ag drones, robots, and sensors. Shenzhen’s FJ Dynamics, which builds ‘smart’ rice transplanters and other autonomous systems, scored more than $15 million in mid-December from Tencent and others.