SoftBank Ventures Asia, the venture arm of Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group, led a $5.8 million round in South Korean autonomous navigation startup Seadronix, bringing its total funding to date to $8.3 million.
Founded in 2015, Seadronix develops AI software to help cargo ships navigate with minimal involvement from sailors, similar to autonomous cars. The company’s two main products include a monitoring system to help large vessels berth at docks and a separate monitoring system to help vessels navigate in open waters, currently operating in four ports across Korea.
“Our mission is to be an AI platform that ensures the safety and environmental protection of the ocean,” said Byeolteo Park, cofounder and CEO of Seadronix, in a statement. “With this funding, we hope to recruit more talents in AI and sensor fusion and navigation, and accelerate our global market penetration plan.”
Seadronix’s proprietary systems could solve 75% of maritime accidents that stem from “human errors and environmental issues,” such as carbon dioxide leaks that can cause fatal explosions, according to the startup.
The autonomous shipping industry in Asia has seen a wave of investment over the past few years, dovetailing with a global push towards “smarter” autonomous transportation. Toyota AI Ventures, for example, launched a $100 million fund in 2019 for autonomous mobility, covering the shipping industry with an investment in Singapore-based Sea Machines.
Last August, Boston Consulting Group’s innovation arm, BCG Digital Ventures, invested in three Singapore-based maritime tech startups. Quest Ventures, also based in the city-state, launched a $7.5 million maritime technology fund last year, in collaboration with Singapore-based ShipsFocus.
Founded in 2000, SoftBank Ventures Asia has approximately $1.8 billion in assets under management, spanning over 300 companies, focusing on “ICT investments” such as AI, IoT and smart robotics.
Last December, SoftBank Ventures Asia invested $150 million in metaverse platform Zepeto, operated by Naver Z, a unit of Korean billionaire Lee Hae-jin’s internet giant Naver.