Investing in the Robotic Revolution
The machines are rising—and investors should be paying attention.
That’s the message behind the latest figures from the International Federation of Robotics. In March, the agency said companies worldwide installed 225,000 factory robots in 2014, with almost two-thirds going to Asia. That total is up 27% from 2013.
It’s part of a trend the IFR sees continuing: according to a September press release from the agency, sales gains will average 12% annually between 2015 and 2017, compared to a 9.5% annualized rise between 2008 and 2013.
The IFR says there are now 1.3 million to 1.6 million robots humming away on factory floors around the world—and you don’t have to go far to see one in action.
On the assembly line at Tesla Motors’ (NasdaqGS: TSLA) factory in Fremont, California, 160 different robots help build the company’s Model S electric car. And Kiva Systems’ small orange robots whiz around 10 of Amazon.com’s (NasdaqGS: AMZN) US warehouses, collecting ordered items and dropping them off to a human for packing and shipping. (Amazon bought Kiva for $775 million in early 2012 and recently renamed it Amazon Robotics.)
As cutting-edge as they sound, industrial robots have been with us for more than 50 years: the first one, called Unimate, was a 4,000-pound arm that started handling superheated car parts at a New Jersey GM plant in 1961.
Fast-forward to today, and robots have quietly inserted themselves into many parts of our lives; you may be reading this in a room freshly vacuumed by iRobot’s (NasdaqGS: IRBT) popular Roomba robot, for example. Or maybe you or someone you know has had a surgical procedure performed by a doctor using Intuitive Surgical’s (NasdaqGS: ISRG) Da Vinci system, which uses flexible robotic arms to work through tiny incisions, helping shorten healing time.
Two Markets to Watch
According to a May report from Business Insider, the consumer robotics market will be the fastest growing in the near term, with a forecast 17% compound annual growth rate between 2014 and 2019—seven times quicker than the industrial-robot market.
Even so, Martin Hutchinson, chief strategist at our Pacific Wealth advisory, sees the industrial side as the better bet for investors.
“Eventually, household robots—those that can clean the carpets and the pool and even mow the lawn and watch the dog—will become more common, freeing up weekends to work on your golf game,” he wrote in the June issue of Pacific Wealth.
“But it’s still industrial robots that drive the market. The typical industrial robot sells for $100,000 to $200,000, including software. The IFR estimated the total market for industrial robots and associated equipment at $25 billion in 2011; the Japanese government believes it will reach $70 billion by 2025.”
There are other options, too, like developers of exoskeletons. Once the realm of sci-fi movies, these robotic suits blend human and machine, giving wearers enhanced strength and speed.
It’s a technology Smart Tech Investor strategist Jim Pearce thinks has implications for industries from manufacturing to the military. But a standout is health care, particularly when it comes to conditions like paraplegia, which affects 140,000 Americans, a figure that rises by about 12,000 a year:
“Because paraplegia injuries tend to happen early in life—the average age is just 31—individuals must cope with the condition for many years,” Pearce wrote in a June 22 article.
“Health complications cost an average of $500,000 in the first year post-injury alone. Long-term confinement to a wheelchair adds its own set of issues, including loss of bone density, pressure sores and muscle spasticity. The possibility of exoskeleton-assisted walking—aside from huge strides in quality of life—promises lower treatment expenses and fewer secondary complications.”
The exoskeleton market has been tough for investors to access, with most research being been carried out in universities and private labs. But 2014 saw a flurry of small players go public, while established firms have also started experimenting with the technology.
Last year’s IPOs included Japan’s Cyberdyne Inc. (TYO: 7779), whose exoskeletons will soon help Tokyo airport workers lift heavy bags; Ekso Bionics Holdings, Inc. (OTC: EKSO), whose Ekso GT suit is used in about 100 hospitals worldwide; New Zealand–based clinical-exoskeleton firm Rex Bionics plc (AIM: RXB); and Israel’s ReWalk Robotics Ltd. (NasdaqGS: RWLK), a maker of exoskeletons for rehab and personal use.
An Established Robot Maker
Meanwhile, over at Pacific Wealth, Hutchinson sees Japan’s Yaskawa Electric Corp. (OTC: YASKY) as well positioned to harness rising demand for factory robots. The company is one of the world’s leading robotics firms, with about 20% of the market.
Yaskawa was founded in 1915. For many years, it was mainly focused on machine-control systems, but robotics provided 34% of sales in its latest fiscal year. Its offerings can be found on factory floors around the world—particularly in Asia—with jobs like welding, painting and assembling electronics.
There’s a health care angle here, too:
“Even drug companies rely on robots because they’re faster and more precise than seasoned lab techs,” he writes. “And hospitals and nursing homes already use robots, especially in Japan, where there’s a labor shortage. Yaskawa says next year it will introduce a robot that will move a bedridden person to a wheelchair.”
Your Best Exoskeleton Buy Now
Exoskeletons are already transforming a remarkable number of lives: all told, 3,500 paraplegic patients have walked a total of 15 million steps while wearing these suits. No wonder MIT scientists have hailed this breakthrough as “the end of disability.”
Tech investing expert Jim Pearce has just released his top buy as more industries adopt this extraordinary technology. Thanks to a new line of contracts, analysts project this stock could soar 565% in the next few months … enough to turn $10,000 into $66,500 before 2015 is over!
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