Picking winners in the robotics age

This article is part of
Winter Investment Monitor - December 2015

A global journey has started whereby robots will soon work, for and with, people across all aspects of our business and consumer lives, improving societies and transforming economies.

Have you considered the fact that children born today may never drive cars, or that as we all reach that ‘silver generation’ age we will be cared for in part by robots?

Robotics and automation is a theme running through almost every industry and practice and now is the time for advisers and their clients to start allocating to this fast-growing market.

It can be difficult to appreciate the rapid development and deployment of technologies such as high-fidelity sensor processing, computer vision, force sensing, machine learning, speech recognition, real-time control and intelligent navigation. But these and other related technologies are a commercial reality today.

The smartphone, for example, has nine built-in sensors. Coupled with increased processing power at dramatically lower costs, this technology has created the foundation for explosive growth within the robotics and automation industry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the demand for robotics within healthcare, particularly in surgical procedures, is rising. If you are having prostate surgery in the US, for example, it is highly probable your procedure will be carried out by a robot.

Intuitive Surgical’s Da Vinci Robot dominates the keyhole surgical market. With more than 3,000 installations worldwide, this technology assists in routine surgeries, simplifies incisions and speeds up the process, reducing recovery time and ultimately allowing doctors to spend more time on complex operations.

Even outside of the operating theatre, robots are being used to facilitate care. Paro, Pearl and Pepper are types of robots already being used, and they create a sense of stability and calmness for the elderly.

This area within healthcare will grow exponentially. Take Japan as an example. It is expected that by 2025, a third of its population will be over the national retirement age, but there is already a shortage of care workers in the market.

Meanwhile, agriculture is the world’s oldest and most important economic activity, but it is challenged by the fact that productivity must increase 25 per cent by 2050. Robotics will play a key role to bridge this gap, driven by companies such as John Deere, Arco, ATC and Blue River.

For six decades robots have played a fundamental role in improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of industrial production. In the past 20 years, a similar trend has taken place in agriculture, with GPS and vision-based, self-guided tractors and harvesters becoming available commercially.

A recent report by Tactica forecasted the overall agricultural robotic market will reach $3bn (£2bn) by the end of 2015, and this is likely to increase fivefold to $16.8bn by 2020 and to $73.9bn within the next 10 years.

We have already seen inventions such as robotic vacuum cleaners increase in popularity in the home. Even robot companions such as SoftBank’s Pepper are already a home reality.