Each week, Verdict’s editors select a deal that illustrates the themes driving change in our sector. The deal may not always be the largest in value, or the highest profile. But we select it because of what it tells us about where the leading companies are focusing their efforts, and why. We pick apart the deal itself, and the industry theme behind it. This new, thematic deal coverage is driven by our underlying Disruptor data which tracks all major deals, patents, company filings, hiring patterns and social media buzz across our sectors.

The deal

San Francisco based AI robotics company, Figure, has announced a $9m investment by US chip giant Intel’s investment arm, Intel Capital.

Figure is a start-up focused on building AI-enabled autonomous humanoid robots. The investment will help Figure commercialise its industrial robots by building out its AI data pipeline for more advanced autonomous functionality. The funding announcement follows a major milestone in the company’s evolution, when in May 2023, its Figure 01 robot took its first steps.

Why it matters

GlobalData thematic analyst, Michael Orme, notes that Tesla founder Elon Musk has publicly said that his squads of Optimus humanoid co-worker robots currently under development, will become a bigger part of the business than cars.

Indeed, the robotics market is a rapidly growing sector valued around $45.3bn in 2020 and expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29% to $568bn by 2030, according to research analyst GlobalData.

Intel’s investment places the company at the forefront of humanoid robot development. “Keeping tabs on breaking developments in the field from the inside makes Intel very much part of the evolving global robotics ecosystem within which it aims to be a key component supplier,” says Orme.

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By GlobalData

The deal will allow Intel to continuously gather information to help it develop processors and chipsets for the new breeds of autonomous robots, humanoid or otherwise, that are going to take the world by storm in what Orme describes as an imminent “Cambrian explosion in robotics.”

“Technological advances, notably in AI, sensor fusion, and new materials mean that new breeds of intelligent, nimble, mobile, dexterous co-worker robots will be mingling in our factories, warehouses, hospitals restaurants, and homes by 2030,” says Orme.

Demographic shifts, including ageing and declining populations in industrialised nations, and changing macroeconomic conditions mean that the industrial robotics market is likely to see significant growth in the short to medium term to address labour shortages.

Figure’s autonomous general purpose humanoid robots are designed for deployment into the workforce to address these labour shortages as well as those jobs deemed unsafe for humans.

Mark Lydon, managing director at Intel Capital said: “Figure’s focus on enhancing the labour economy is an essential part of our future, and we look forward to being at the forefront to support humanoid development.”

Figure specialises in warehouse automation, a market which is already very crowded in anticipation of rapid growth ahead. Sales of industrial robots reached $14.6bn in 2020, representing 32% of the total robotics market. By 2030, the industrial robot segment will be worth $352bn, having grown at a CAGR of 38% between 2020 and 2030, predicts GlobalData in its Robotics Thematic Intelligence Report.

Orme suggests the global warehouse automation market will be worth in excess of $40bn in annual revenues by 2027 with over 700 companies fighting to get a piece of the pie.

Co-worker robots will carry out multiple tasks, while robot delivery trolleys, vans, trucks and drones will be used to transport goods from factories, warehouses, wholesale and retail outlets and finally to end users.

Intel's arch rival NVIDIA, also has several investments in early phase robotic companies. In May 2023, the chip giant invested in Franco-American surgical robotics company Moon Surgical. And in October 2022, the company invested $10m in Serve Robotics, a last mile delivery company for the same reasons that Intel is investing in Figure.

Industrial robots to overtake service robot market

According to GlobalData, the industrial robotics market is expected to overtake the service robotic market, which currently has a larger market value.

Service robots are specifically designed for domestic and 'caring' roles such as deployment in hospitals, caring for the elderly and addressing the needs of an increasingly lonely urban population.

At $30.7bn in 2020, the service robot market was significantly larger than the industrial robotics sector which stood at $14.6bn. However, the industrial robotics market is expected to grow faster over the next decade, reaching $352.1bn by 2030 compared to $216bn for the service robot market, according to GlobalData.

The detail

Intel Capital’s investment build’s on Figure’s $70m Series A funding round in May 2023, which included investors Parkway Venture Capital, Aliya Capital, Bold Capital Partners, Tamarack Global, FJ labs, and former KUKA Robotics CEO Till Reuter.