Ontario self-driving cars startup Clearpath Robotics and its industrial division OTTO Motors announced a $30 million (CAD $39 million) funding round Wednesday, led by iNovia Capital. Some major industrial players participated in the round, including Caterpillar Ventures and GE Ventures, as well as RRE Ventures, Eclipse Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank.
Clearpath, which is based in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge startup ecosystem a couple of hours west of Toronto, got its start in 2009 as part of a U.S. Defense Department robotics competition. They nabbed a $300,000 seed immediately after and went on from there, opening OTTO in 2015 for moving materials inside warehouses and on the manufacturing floor.
“Factories operate like small indoor cities, complete with roads, traffic, intersections and pedestrians,” said Clearpath Co-founder and CEO Matt Rendall in a statement. “Unlike city streets, a factory floor is a controlled environment, which makes it an ideal place to introduce self-driving vehicles at scale. Companies like Google, Tesla and Uber are still testing, whereas our self-driving vehicles are commercially available today.”
Rendall referred to an IEEE forecast that self-driving vehicles would be an $87 billion market by 2030, which he said should at least match the value of “self-driving materials handling vehicles.” GE is already one of their customers, as is John Deere. RRE led the company’s $11.2 million Series A funding round in January 2015, with iNovia, Eclipse and GE participating in that round as well. The company already has customers in 40 countries.
“Clearpath has a big head start, and this new funding will allow us to further accelerate the development of the best self-driving software in the industry — and bring more OTTOs into the world faster.”
OTTO’s self-driving vehicles are the sort of products that tech and industry observers have been expecting with the onslaught of smarter factories. While they paint their vision in terms of Deloitte’s forecast that there will be a 2 million-strong shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the years to come, it certainly also paves the way for more relief of human workers in the future.
“Software-differentiated hardware will disrupt every major sector over the next decade,” said Karamdeep Nijjar, partner at iNovia Capital. “Clearpath isn’t just building the factory of the future; they are laying the foundation for entirely new business models enabled by artificial intelligence, autonomy and automation.”