Clearpath Robotics, which builds autonomous vehicles for “dull, dirty, and deadly” jobs, announced CAD $39 million (USD $30 million) in Series B funding. The round was led by iNovia Capital with participation from Caterpillar Ventures, GE Ventures, Eclipse Ventures, RRE Ventures, and Silicon Valley Bank.
Speaking with BetaKit, co-founder and CEO Matt Rendall said that the company is using the funding to expand on its OTTO Motors industrial division. Currently, the company offers autonomous vehicles targeting the mining, defense, and agriculture division, but is now using the funding to shift its focus to material transport inside factories and warehouses through OTTO Motors.
“If you look at the history of the company, a lot of what we’ve done in the formative days were around the dirty and deadly category of work, so we’ve got a lot of experience under our belt in aerospace, defense, mining, and agriculture,” said Rendall. Currently, Clearpath counts the Canadian Space Agency and Department of National Defence among its customers.
“When we started thinking about how the future of our business would look like, we evaluated all of the different applications that we had been exposed to and ultimately we settled on manufacturing and logistics. It still fits into our mantra of automating the world’s dullest, deadliest, and dirtiest jobs, but we’re shifting our focus onto the ‘dull’ part of spectrum.”
“Many big mining companies have been reporting challenges for the past several years and as a startup, we can’t afford to sit around and wait.”
Part of the reason for the shift in focus is that autonomous vehicles working indoors are less likely to be subjected to the same regulatory and environmental issues as outdoor autonomous vehicles. While Clearpath has to consider changes in temperature, thunderstorms, and puddles for their outdoor vehicles in industries like mining — as well as buying cycles and growing regulatory considerations — an indoor vehicle functioning in a factory would be working in an ‘indoor city’ in a controlled environment.
Rendall said that shifting to indoor materials transport has been the plan since the company raised its $14 million Series A in March of last year, though the company didn’t reveal the extent of its plans at the time.
“Now with a Series B under our belt, the game plan is to do more of the same strategy. Over the last 18 months, we’ve gained significant traction in the market with early adopters,” said Rendall. “The goal with new capital that we’re bringing in is to accelerate bringing Otto to the industrial market.”
Clearpath also plans to use the funding to scale its sales and marketing, increase manufacturing, and growing its current 155-person team to 250 over the next year. The company will continue to operate its autonomous vehicle division for researchers working in dangerous conditions, which Rendall said was still profitable, but acknowledged that the natural resource sector is more challenging.
When the company started in 2009 during the financial crisis, commodity prices rose and there was more activity in the natural resource sector, which Clearpath benefitted from. “Many big mining companies and equipment OEMs have been reporting challenges for the past several years and as a startup, we can’t afford to sit around and wait,” Rendall said.
Despite a shift in focus, Rendall said that the company is still committed to its research division as autonomous vehicles in general continue to garner more interest across industries; eventually, mining trucks, passenger vehicles, and forklifts will drive themselves. “To eliminate the incredible research capabilities we have through our business would do a disservice to what this technology stands to bring to society, so I don’t think we will stop doing what we’re doing,” said Rendall. “That’s part of the reason why we split the two businesses. We have the innovation engine in Clearpath Robotics, and we have this industrial materials handling division — our first vertical division to focus on deploying that capability into materials handling.”