Roboteam’s new funding and contracts position it for more growth worldwide as grows for demand cheaper unmanned vehicles in military and commercial applications
The Israeli unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) manufacturer Roboteam has secured an additional $50 million in investments in a new funding round that was announced yesterday, based on a valuation of $200 million.
Much of this new funding has been secured through Singaporean investment funds, according to Calcalist and The Marker. Coupled with the $12 million raised in their previous round though Generali Financial Holdings’ Crossroads, this latest injection of cash brings them to a total of $62 million in funding.
Roboteam was founded in 2009 by IDF elite unit veterans Yosi Wolf and Elad Levy with heavy support from the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure. The company splits its operations and employees between Israel and the US. Clients include the IDF; customers worldwide in Thailand, Singapore, the UK, and Poland; and multiple US law enforcement or military agencies, including the US Air Force, which last year signed a contract with the company for 250 bomb disposal units.
Several dozen bomb disposal units are already in service with US Army Special Forces and the IDF, and have been used by police in Boston and Paris following terrorist attacks.
Roboteam specializes in multifunction UGVs, such as the lightweight IRIS “mobile camera,” the MTGR that can serve as a reconnaissance unit or bomb disposal tool, and the man-sized PROBOT that has cargo carrying and medevac capabilities as well. With these products, Roboteam is moving away from unit specialization in favor of highly mobile jack-of-all-trades models. That is a big draw for militaries and law enforcement clients anywhere, since a drone system is still a major investment and single-function units cannot be easily modified.
Roboteam’s sales pitch emphasizes lowering operating costs and maintenance expenses, with an overall goal of cutting average unit costs between 50–90%, and reducing the size of UGVs for ease of use by the individual operator. “We do small robots,” the company’s CEO Shahar Abuhazaria told Bloomberg Tech, “simple, intuitive, and very easy to operate.”
International Trends Bode Well
The UGV industry will, globally, be worth $18.65 billon by 2020, according to MarketsandMarkets. At present, North America is the most important source of customers. And while it is currently dominated by US defense majors such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin’s autonomous systems divisions, Israeli firms such as Roboteam are making inroads, as shown by their successes with bomb disposal robots, which is particularly marked given the fact Roboteam only employs about 80 people. Roboteam has also been named one of Israel’s Deloitte’s Fast-50 companies.
Looking further afield, Israeli firms are even better placed to take advantage of growing UGV demand in Europe and Asia-Pacific by the end of the decade. Not least because Israeli firms already have cornered the global market for UAVs in these regions. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israeli firms have held a 60.7% global market share for UAVs since 1985, aided by historically liberal export laws.
American government agencies at all levels, and private law enforcement organizations, will continue to be major purchasers of Israeli drone technology. This is due to the two nations’ shared defense ties and the fact that Israel’s widespread application of drone technology since the 1970s gives it an edge over other nations. This is true in terms of access to veteran personnel, with “100% of Roboteam’s management consists of [IDF] officers,” according to the company’s founders, though it mostly employs civilian specialists. And it is true in relation to extensive field testing in harsh conditions, including wartime ones in Gaza: the co-founders have stated that “we ourselves use the equipment on reserve duty, and that’s what enables us to understand exactly what’s needed.”
The demand for such machines will only grow, both in war and peace. Statistics compiled by Frost & Sullivan show that unmanned aerial systems now account for one-tenth of total Israeli defense industry exports. Today, military drones serve primarily in reconnaissance capacities or as ordnance carriers. Bomb disposal is also a very popular application, for obvious reasons.
Old and New Applications
One of the more recent innovations has been the emergence of types such as Roboteam’s PROBOT, Boston Dynamics’s BIGDOG, and IAI’s REX “field porter” for logistics use. They will act as pack animals have throughout history. Interestingly, Israeli special forces were still using llamas during the Second Lebanon War back in 2006.
Thankfully, not all robots are being designed for war. There is already existing drone delivery technology deployed by humanitarian organizations to deliver aid supplies, like the German “Defikopter,” will be further incorporated into combat medicine applications.
Drones are expendable in reconnoitering a disaster zone, exploring a damaged structure, or actually carrying explosive devices close in to a target. The latter was the case in Dallas, Texas this past summer when police used a Northrup Grumman bomb disposal robot to lethally incapacitate a sniper holed up in a parking garage. In the near future, UGVs could be outfitted with other specialized packages for law enforcement or military needs, like carrying incapacitating agents or jamming devices.
Some autonomous combat systems have already been developed, such as the Israeli Guardium UGV family and South Korean Super aEgis II defense turrets. But fully autonomous combat robots — the “battle droids” of science fiction — are still some years off, if they ever do come into being. As co-founder of Roboteam, Yosi Wolf, told Globes last year, this is no Robocop: “a robot is an effective work tool that facilitates better work. We realized that. A robot is designed to serve the soldier, not replace him.”
It is worth remembering that the road to robot integration is not without its own hurdles. Back in December, the Marines rejected Boston Dynamic’s BIGDOG for use in the field due to it being far too noisy.
Take a listen for yourself.
Now try and imagine sending this guy out with troops attempting to maintain noise discipline.
While this is a challenge, it does not appear to have perturbed the Roboteam crew. And for good reason. Having signed important contracts with American military customers in the past year, the company will now be well placed to take advantage of the UGV industry’s worldwide growth.
In this, it will benefit from its ties to Israel’s military-industrial complex and the market domination Israeli firms already hold in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sales worldwide.