Saturday, July 18, 2009

Robotics stocks in Korea, Japan and the EU are outperforming US stocks. Why?

Robo-Stox™, a compilation of worldwide publicly traded stocks in the robotics industry and exclusively presented on The Robot Report, clearly show that America is losing the race in robotics except in two areas: medical/surgical and defense/security. Click chart to enlarge.
PPIP’s. Public, Private Investment Partnerships focused on robotic growth where it will do the most good are, in my opinion, the reason why Korea, Japan and the EU are surpassing America in robotics development.
  • Korea is two years into an aggressive plan to invest $1 billion in order to be #1 in the worldwide robotics industry by 2018 and they’re spending $100 million each year in that pursuit.

  • Japan has many PPIPs focused on enabling the elderly to remain independent as long as possible thereby reducing healthcare cost and providing a better life for its citizens with robotics.

  • Europe has many PPIPs. One, which just concluded, focused on the robotic needs of small and medium-sized manufacturers.
When American educators from the major US tech universities presented their roadmap for our robotics industry before Congress last month, their suggestions for manufacturing had already been researched and reflected in the EU’s SME Robot Initiative. We are that far behind!

Worse, to date there’s been just one story about the presentation before Congress, and not a single published quote on the subject from any of the members of the Robotics Caucus. It's an interesting and illuminating read and I invite you download the PDF file and read it.
Led by Japan, Korea, and the European Union, the rest of the world has recognized the irrefutable need to advance robotics technology and have made research investment commitments totaling over $1 billion; the U.S. investment in robotics technology, outside unmanned systems for defense purposes, remains practically non-existing. [from A Roadmap for US Robotics]
Robotics, in all its interdisciplinary forms, will be everywhere very soon. In our homes, cars and appliances. At the hospital and in the workplace. Protecting us from near and afar. It's happening fast but not like in the movies. In America and Europe, it'll be in advanced embedded interactive systems like adaptive cruise control that now includes lane boundary awareness and will soon handle trucks and busses un-manned in controlled lanes; or in Kiva-style warehouses (no fixed shelving; few pick and pack people; heavy computer control, autonomous robots interacting with one another); or in smaller and smaller interactive medical and sensing devices.

In Japan and Korea, more humanoid-looking robots will be used for personal and factory assistants and we'll all be using exoskeletons of one type or another such as the ones being used for Japan's seniors to help them garden or Honda's factory workers who need to squat, climb and lift to do their jobs.

It's truly amazing and just beginning to get into stride. Worldwide defense spending is paying for the R&D and smart guys like Rodney Brooks are commercializing that R&D into household products.

Part of why America's robotics industry is lagging is that it is quite fragmented with all the R&D being at the behest of DARPA, NASA and the DoD and none in the commercial sector. Other than in medical robotics (which were originated by NASA), our robotic companies are integrators, engineers, software developers and resellers; not manufacturers. Even Ugobe's adorable Pleo dinosaur robot was contract-manufactured in Hong Kong!

Robotics technology – at it’s present level of technological progress - offers a rare opportunity to strategically invest to create new jobs, increase productivity, and increase worker safety in the short run, and to address long term fundamental issues associated with economic growth in an era of significant aging of the general population and securing services for such a population. Public/private investment partnerships take actions that, to date, at least here in America, have not yet begun to happen.

But that’s where we are today, not where we can be tomorrow unless we start making some decisions today!

Let’s take stock of what we do have. First, we have an established, albeit fragmented, robotics industry comprised of some of the most innovative people in the field, if not the most accomplished at this moment. Second, we have already invested in a Robotics culture at the secondary school level with Robotics Clubs proliferating and a lot of groundwork already having been done by both our competitors and the pop culture. Third, and most important, we have a history of leadership in the development and domination of new technologies once we get going in earnest; computers, microchips, pharmaceuticals, medical devices… the list is long.

It's unacceptable that, with all the stimulus money and new technology rhetoric floating around, we are not strategically investing in an industry that has the likelihood of becoming "the next big thing."