Neuro Robotics, a German startup that has been building cognitive robots — machines with memory, the ability to operate across complex and constantly changing variables since 2019 and can collaborate with people (“cobots” as Neura calls them) — has raised $55 million. It plans to use the funds to drive more R&D and to expand its business in Asia and the US, and will also use some of it to increase manufacturing: the company says its order book is now at $450 million over the next five years.
“Actual demand from our customers is much higher, but is still constrained by our production capacity at the moment,” David Reger, CEO and co-founder of Neura, told Zero2Billions. (Reger is pictured above with some Neura robots.)
The funding came from Lingotto — an investment management firm that is part of PE firm Exor NV — plus Vsquared Ventures, Primepulse and HV Capital. The valuation was not disclosed, but the deal represents change for the startup.
Neura previously raised around $80 million, with all of that coming from strategic backer Han’s Group, a China-based conglomerate known best for property development, but also with holdings in hotel operations and property management, equipment manufacturing and healthcare. Prior to this latest investment, Reger said the company decided to buy out its former backers to clear the limit tables and make way for pure financial investors.
“In today’s deglobalized world, we have decided that Neura as an independent company has more potential worldwide and the partnership is more beneficial for both companies,” he told Zero2Billions in an interview, via email due to time constraints.
While there are certainly plenty of vaporware, and “coming soon” devices in the world of advanced autonomous systems, robotics startups have actually made more than any other, and Neura is among them.
The company currently has three models that include a robotic arm and a more “human” form — the MAV mobile robot, the LARA “high-end cobot,” and the MAiRA, which it describes as “the world’s first cognitive robot.” The company’s model appears to be primarily B2B, and potentially B2B2C, for now. For example, Reger says that one of its customers, Kawasaki Japan, “is already selling their own series of cobots based on our platform.”
Prices for industrial models range between €5,000 and €40,000, while the upcoming MiPA service robot, aimed at offices, care facilities and homes, “will be priced well under ten thousand euros.”
Prior to founding Neura, Reger spent seven years in robotics, both in management roles and developing robots for industrial applications. If you look at hers LinkedIn profileit seems he is less on the technical side and more on the conceptual side of that R&D, but that might give him an advantage in building his own robotics business, as he has a solid idea of what customers are looking for.
In almost all industrial projects, he says, “we have to adapt the existing environment to robots — usually in very complex and expensive ways — to meet high safety requirements.
“The industry has been doing this for decades without anyone questioning it. But I believe that in the long term, it will make more sense to modify the robot itself so that it can be used safely in any environment with humans,” he said. “It’s clear to me, even in 2019, it is possible to equip robots with senses and give them the ability to process perceptions quickly and safely. But as is often the case in mature industries, it’s difficult to leave your comfort zone and enter uncharted territory. Otherwise, we would have had alternatives to the much longer internal combustion engines. So, I ended up starting my own company to put my cognitive robotics idea into action.”
Reger’s “casual” description of what a cognitive robot means says something about the functionality the company wants to build with its machines. “I would say that smartphones come with arms and legs,” he said of the Neura device. “In other words, assistants who liberate us not just virtually, but in real terms. Physically.”
The platforms Neura has built can be trained and operated in any language and dialect, he said, and they work both online and offline, and cobots have the added feature of allowing them to work with and alongside humans, with sensors and safety features that allow them to stop or adjust their movements if someone comes into contact with them, Reger said.
The company’s big bet is that making the entire package — software plus hardware — is the way forward in this space. That includes not just building all the sensors and other components, but building the AI that supports them. This also means Neura can better collaborate with its customers, with a platform that partners can use to co-develop custom applications in areas such as welding, warehousing, gluing, sanding and assembly.
“If you are serious about software, you need to embrace hardware,” said Dr Herbert Mangesius, general partner at Vsquared Ventures, in a statement. “This is especially true for robotic automation and has been a barrier to bringing advanced machine learning and cognitive capabilities to the industrial and service worlds for many years. Neura Robotics is the first company we met to combine this vision and technology leadership with an open partnership model and drive progress globally at a pace never before seen in robotics.”
In the future, Neura wants to expand directly to the consumer market, said Reger.
“We focus on industrial applications such as welding, warehousing, gluing, sanding and assembly, but all of our know-how and technology goes into our MiPA service robotic platform, which can assist in the office, in maintenance and even at home,” he said. The goal is to keep up the pace it has set so far, and deliver that cognitive “one-device robotics platform” within two years. “Neura’s humanoid robots collaborating with humans in various social domains and in human-designed environments could become a reality in just a few years – and provide a solution to the general shortage of skilled workers,” said Reger.
That said, the company isn’t vertically integrated to the extent that it won’t work with third parties: Its AI can be used on any robot through the APIs it provides, and the hardware it builds has the app ecosystem but also Neura’s willingness to work with customers to build whatever their needs.
“We provide a technology platform that can connect with partners from around the world, not just robotics. Our components and robots are combined with countless ideas and know-how from various industries,” he continued. “This enables many specialized applications in a very short time that we cannot service alone. The best way to compare it is with smartphones and their operating systems, which have only just come to life and become indispensable thanks to millions of applications from all sectors.” He says the company has even branded this ambition: “Neuraverse”.
In a market that does have a lot of proprietary approaches, this is indeed an ambitious concept, but investors seem to believe that Neura can make it happen. “Neura operates at the confluence of AI and hardware development. Germany and Europe have a particular advantage here”, said Nikhil Srinivasan, managing partner at Lingotto, in a statement.