According to a recent Global Industrial Robotics Market Forecast & Opportunities report issued byÂ the technology research firm “Research and Markets,”Â overall robotics revenues are expected to increase by roughly 25%Â from 2013-2018Â and will likely reach somewhere around $37Â billion in total global sales. Much of this projection is based on already-placed orders from major Chinese manufacturering enterprises.Â Importantly, that $37 billion,Â of course,Â only accounts forÂ the “large scale” industrial segment of the industry.Â As thisÂ compilationÂ of other studies makes clear,Â demand for robotics in areas outside the industrial sphere (e.g., medical science, human services, information delivery and, maybe most significantly, for military applications) is also expected to surge sharply upward -Â in some casesÂ at even exponential rates of expansion.
From an investmentÂ perspective,Â whenever we see growth like this intersecting so many different fields (and especiallyÂ with regard to a technologyÂ that’s probably comparable to where computers were in the early 1980s)Â it’s usually safe to assume investment opportunities abound.Â Nevertheless, theÂ enormous number of unknowns here makeÂ roboticsÂ an extremelyÂ interesting but uniquely challenging bet. With that thoughtÂ in mind, the near-term picture does at leastÂ appear to be revealing certainÂ developments worth watching:
- As noted,Â there is simply no way that larger emerging economiesÂ like China and India will be able to meetÂ consumer demand without new generations of advancedÂ industrial robots.Â First world economies are tougher to read (at least on the industrial side) due to continuing shifts from away from traditional manufacturing towardÂ high-tech and service professions, although it’s probably safe to say that nations like Germany will still likely be major robotics purchasersÂ (and inventors/producers) over the next five-ten years. That invention/production piece of the puzzle also fits for Silicon Valley and could actually stimulate US manufacturing.
- The New York Times recentlyÂ looked at the growingÂ pushÂ to create and market “humanized robots” – not merely for entertainment – butÂ forÂ social and practical purposes.Â Psychological analyses demonstrate that robots designed specifically to help individuals (for example,Â while cleaning a home,Â assisting the disabled, providing driving directionsÂ or helping nurses deliver patient care at a hospital)Â are able to perform their tasks better (that is be used by their human owners more efficiently) when humans begin to sense even an obviously artificial form of emotionalÂ bonding (The popularity of Apple’sÂ “Siri”Â – a product thatÂ is still usually LESSÂ technically proficient than traditional text-based searching – clearly shows this principle in action…).
- A second important point about “robot humanization,” also noted in the NYT piece, is the obvious reality that most human environments – e.g., almost anything that isn’t a factory – are, unsurprisingly, designed for humans. Therefore, the moreÂ “human-like” a robot can be, the more successfully it will be able to navigate its surroundings and engage in tasks mostlyÂ inapplicable for its industrial counterparts. Abilities like stair-climbing, opening doors and delivering food or medicine all require specific types of human characteristics.
“This is the wave thatâ€™s happening in robotics right now,â€ said Charlie Kemp, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. â€œThings are not the same when youâ€™re interacting with people. Thatâ€™s where we want robots to be; itâ€™s where we see there are huge opportunities for robots; and there are very distinct requirements from what led to the classic industrial robot.â€
EachÂ of these basic observations onlyÂ begin to scratch the surface, but robotics isÂ mostÂ certainly one of those areas where smart investors (and smart companies) should be able realize upside – if not immediately, than almost without question as a long-term play.