Robots are getting smarter, faster, more independent, and more valuable – almost by the day.
You can find them today scrubbing floors, assembling cars, even performing hair transplants on human patients. With a new $149 accessory debuting this summer, your smartphone can go to work for you as a robotic pet, babysitter, or even your “personal avatar.” Before long, robots will be roaming the halls of your hospital, providing patient monitoring and beaming your vitals back to the attending physician.
Indeed, robots are making a growing list of industries and businesses more efficient and more productive. The “Robotics Revolution” is unfolding at an almost unbelievably rapid pace right now.
Some of you might find that a little unnerving – especially if you’ve watched “Terminator 3” or “Blade Runner” or “I, Robot” recently…
I urge you instead to see this for the tremendous (and fast-moving) tech profit opportunity it is.
Robotics is about to take off in a big way – for two reasons:
- First, a series of breakthroughs in machine learning is making today’s robots smarter and easier to program.
- Second, and even more important for investors to know about, is a new software service that will let robots join one of the hottest trends in high tech today – “cloud computing.” It promises to help the next generation of advanced robots gain a whole new level of independence and make them lighter, cheaper, and more useful.
Today I want to show you the importance of this second development – and the potential boon for investors.
Why Robots Need the Internet, Too
A research team from five European universities has just released a new software service called the RoboEarth Cloud Engine.
Simply put, the “cloud” is just data and applications stored remotely. That sometimes means a private computer network, like those that big companies maintain, but more often it’s the Web itself.
This new system is designed to allow robots to connect to modern data centers that will provide computing, data storage, and communications for machines located all over the globe. We’re talking everywhere from mines to shipping terminals to the factory floor.
It’s actually quite similar to the Web for humans.
As the science team sees it, the Web for bots will become a giant network and of data, instructions, and learning tools that keep the bots up to date. The devices themselves will be programmed to log into RoboEarth. Once there, they can share information and learn from each other about their behavior and their environment.
Team members said the system also will help pave the way for more rapid advances in machine learning. The team believes that in the long run, the Web interlink will make for a more subtle and better human-machine interface.
This alone, the team said, will greatly speed up the rate at which robots can take on complex new jobs and adapt to different environments.
It’s hard to argue with the logic behind this Web-based advance. On-board sensors and computing devices make modern robots “smarter.” But they also hasten the rate at which bots become obsolete without installing new hardware for their “brains.”
That’s because those bots can’t take instant advantage of either the wireless world or new advances beamed out over the Internet.
Well, now they can.
“The RoboEarth Cloud Engine is particularly useful for mobile robots, such as drones or autonomous cars, which require lots of computation for navigation,” explained team leader Mohanarajah Gajamohan. “It also offers significant benefits for robot co-workers, such as factory robots working alongside humans, which require large knowledge databases, and for the deployment of robot teams.”
By allowing robots with wireless connections to tap into the world’s immense online store of knowledge, team members said they believe the new robot computing system will help pave the way towards lighter, cheaper, and much smarter robots.
Four Ways to Play This Emerging Field
As I see it, there are a four ways for investor to get in today.
- First, industrial robots will benefit greatly. Three of the four big makers are traded off-shore, however. I caution U.S.-based investors to avoid those at this point, because it’s hard to set stop losses that protect your hard-earned capital. The only big maker that’s not traded off-shore is ABB Ltd. (NYSE: ABB). It’s a mega-cap industrial concern that operates a robotics division with dozens of multipurpose robots you can select by payload and reach. These robots can handle dozens of industrial tasks – packing cheese, painting cars, decorating pastries, even welding and laser cutting projects. ABB also sells controllers, related software, and services.
- Adept Technology Inc. (NasdaqGM: ADEP) is also in industrial robots, but the U.S. based company is a micro-cap. It specializes in mobile robots that move autonomously, like small vehicles; the company has pioneered this field for more than two decades. This is a riskier play, because the stock is low-priced and thinly traded, but also more specialized.
- iRobot Corp. (NasdaqGS: IRBT) remains a leader in sales of both consumer and military hardware. It’s most famous for its Roomba© self-directed vacuum. But the company also makes pool cleaners, gutter cleaners, and floor cleaners, as well as combat robots that pull troops and first responders out of harm’s way. iRobot also sells unmanned underwater vehicles for oceanography and surveillance. And it’s delving into the education market with Create©, a mobile programmable robot for students and developers.
- Elbit Systems (NasdaqGS: ELBT) is an Israeli company – the nation’s biggest non-government defense contractor. They’re active in all aspects of aerospace, land, and sea defense, with specific operational expertise in intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. Elbit is on this list because it makes drones that, to me, seem tailor-made for “upgrades” delivered via the cloud. Keep in mind, though, that this stock is not a robotics pure play.
No doubt, cloud computing is the wave of the future for robotics. In the next few years, more and more of the machines in our lives will become Web-connected.
There’s a name for this new field of technology. It’s called the Internet of Things. This refers to machine to machine communications. And it’s going to be huge. It will be the Internet’s third big wave – after person to machine connectivity and wireless.
Yet in terms of changing the way we live, it could dwarf both of those waves combined.
In a recent whitepaper report, GE is predicting that the Internet of Things will give a $10 trillion to $15 trillion boost to the global economy – and that’s just in its initial early stages.
There will be many big opportunities coming for tech investors. In fact, right now I’m putting together something very special for you. Stay tuned.