Heartland Robotics Confirms $7M Funding Round; Charles River Ventures in Lead Role

Heartland Robotics confirmed today that it has raised $7 million in a Series A-1 venture financing round, a story first reported by Xconomy on August 21. The lead funder in the round was Charles River Ventures of Waltham, MA, according to Heartland president Patrick Sobalvarro. Bezos Expeditions, the Seattle-based venture investing operation of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, also participated.

Heartland’s announcement, also detailed in a forthcoming press release, is the first time the Cambridge, MA-based company has gone public with information about its investors. Our earlier story, which was based on a regulatory filing and interviews with anonymous sources, did not name Charles River Ventures as a participant in the new round. According to the information released today, Bezos Expeditions and BrooksLab, LLC, which is headed by Heartland Robotics founder and chief technical officer Rodney Brooks, participated a previously unreported $5 million Series A round sometime in 2008—meaning the stealth-mode company has raised about $12 million all told.

Sobalvarro tells Xconomy that Heartland’s attraction to Charles River Ventures boiled down to experience—both the firm’s, and that of Devdutt Yellurkar, the CRV partner working with Heartland. “I think Charles River has a lot of experience with innovative, early-stage companies, and Devdutt in particular has run companies building complex products involving a lot of software, [including] as the CEO of Yantra,” Sobalvarro says. “That kind of experience really brings a lot to the table when you’re building and early-stage company.”

But Heartland was also looking for a venture firm with demonstrated fundraising traction, Sobalvarro says. “The thing that anybody needs to be conscious of when the economy is the way it is right now is that some venture firms have been really successful in closing new funds and others haven’t,” he says. “Frankly, CRV closed a new fund in the spring and that meant a lot to us.”

Heartland continues to be somewhat guarded about its technology, saying only that it is designed to make manufacturing more productive and efficient. “We’re doing an innovative kind of robot for use in manufacturing,” Sobalvaro says. “It’s based on the work that has come out of Rod’s lab in past years and on the vision that he has brought to robotics that hasn’t been able to be applied to indusrial robotics until just now.”

Brooks is the former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and was a co-founder of Bedford, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT). He is best known for his pioneering work on behavior-based robotics—equipping robots to navigate and react to their environments based largely on sensor input rather than on elaborate internal models.

I spoke this morning with CRV’s Yellurkar, who has joined Heartland’s board, and asked him why the firm wanted to invest. “There are two different parts,” he says. “One of them is Rod and his team—it’s a team with deep experience in robotic systems. The second reason is that the technology has the potential of changing manufacturing economics, and is therefore a very large idea with potentially very broad applicability and a large market opportunity. We think the underlying idea of fundamentally altering manufacturing economics is very powerful.”

Sobalvarro told Xconomy last month that the new funding has allowed the company, which is based in Cambridge’s Central Square, to hire a raft of experienced engineers to move the company’s robots toward testing and deployment.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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