In 2021, robotics startups were flying high. Unlike other categories that had buckled under the strains of a global pandemic, interest in automation was at an all-time high, as companies attempted to navigate supply chain issues and ongoing labor shortages. Robotics and automation were insulated from broader investment slowdowns, but eventually, they, too, were impacted.
It’s not as though the signs haven’t been there. I kicked off the year with a post titled, “The thing we thought was happening with robotic investments is definitely happening.” That thing being investment slowdowns. After a banner year, 2022 was the second-worst year for robotics investments in the past five.
It was second only to 2020, which was one of those once in a life time global anomalies. Totally understandable in that case. That figure represented the five straight quarters of decline in VC money.
Today, new numbers from Crunchbase point to another annual decline for 2023. The year isn’t quite over, of course, but year-to-date investments in the U.S. market are at $2.7 billion, down from $5 billion last year, $9.1 billion in 2021 and even the $3.4 billion that came through in 2020.
There are a couple of things at play here. First, we knew that initial excitement wouldn’t last forever. Some of the world has gotten back to normal, relieving some of the pressure to automate as soon as possible. Second, there are macro trends to contend with.
VC investments have slowed more broadly, and that’s now touching on robotics. The good news, however, is that the category has remained steady relative to the rest of the landscape. The spike in interest around generative AI — and all things artificial intelligence — has been a piece of maintaining its place.
The last few years have also afforded robotics firms a chance to prove their efficacy in the real world, demonstrating the value of automation beyond the manufacturing sector that we’ve been seeing for several decades now.
Robot sales also recently saw a decrease, courtesy of economic headwinds following the initial pandemic surge.