I’m in Minneapolis the next two days, taking part in a terrific industry expo show, RoboticsAlley. It covers the broad range of robotics, from industrial robots to health care and assistive robots, along with a number of exhibitors from the electronics industries. Baxter-the-robot is here. It also covers drones and self-driving cars – the UAV industry association, AUVSI, is one of the sponsors – so it is a pretty wide-ranging trade show. Likewise the various presentations, panel discussions, etc. – an excellent panel on self-driving cars, for example. Many of the presentations have focused not just on technology, but on the economics of these machines; Baxter, for example, represents a price breakthrough in a two armed robot with a screen for a face, at $22,000, but, as a panelist observed, it probably needs to be half that price in order to attract medium to small manufacturing or assembly businesses to experiment with it.
Another aspect of the economics of robotics, however, is investment into the companies bringing them from the lab to market. A number of recent news reports in the business press have remarked on falling venture capital interest in certain sectors, particularly medical devices and assistive living technologies. Part of this might be fueled by new taxes on medical devices that depress investment and innovation, but several speakers here suggested that the investment situation is not clear, even in the specific sector of medical and assistive devices. I was interested to see, in regard to the investment climate, the creation of a new Nasdaq ETF (ROBO) that tracks an index of publicly traded robotics and automation companies. Frank Tobe, founder and editor of the Robot Report, a highly regarded industry paper, said that he wanted a way to invest in the public market for robotics as a [...]