Investing in Robotics

The other day, I heard about a restaurant in San Francisco with no service staff. No greeter, no waiters and no managers roam the floor to serve customers. The only employees – six to seven people – work in the kitchen. Instead, you place your order on iPads at kiosk stations. When the food is ready, you pick it up from a small glass compartment. Then you pay using a virtual cashier once you finish eating. Oh, I forgot, they do have one person guiding the less tech-savvy among us. Actually, you don’t even need to go to San Francisco to get a taste of this automation in action. McDonald’s “Create Your Taste” does just that. Not only do you get burgers made-to-order, you pay using an automated cashier. What’s not to love?

These two restaurants have taken advantage of the ever-improving level of robotics that companies across the world have developed. Robots, of course, have been used to automate production of various products for a few decades now. But past versions usually performed simple repetitive tasks, like spray painting car doors or putting caps on bottles. However, advancements in this field have changed the game.

Robots now have more human-like capabilities with enhanced senses and dexterity. Artificial Intelligence and machine vision augments these capabilities, enabling the technology to perform increasingly complex operations. Some companies are already taking advantage of these breakthroughs. In a 2013 report titled Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy, consulting firm McKinsey estimated that advanced robotics has the potential to impact labour at the tune of $6.3 trillion by 2025, or, in other words, 19% of the entire world’s employment cost.

The Industrial Revolution, which started in Great Britain around 1760, completely transformed manufacturing, unleashing an immense growth in productivity. It all but destroyed cottage industry and created cheaper, better quality goods. We’re at the cusp of another such revolution. Call it Outsourcing 2.0: The rise of the machines. No labour laws, no strikes, no holidays, no benefits, no wages or wage hikes, and the technology performs evermore complex tasks, unlocking incredible productivity gains in the service sector.

Consumers will benefit the most from this robotic revolution. Businesses, from mega-corporations to start-ups, are rushing to add value for the consumer with this technology. Some of the industries already benefiting from this increased productivity and cost reduction are service-based. Medical technology companies, which manufacture surgical tools as well as prosthetics, will likely see exponential demand for their products. These businesses will be at the forefront providing devices that can take care of one’s primary healthcare needs, developed more cheaply with the help of robotics. This will encourage healthcare service providers to offer value in a different way than they currently do. Consumers shall likely see lower health insurance costs brought by increasing ease to provide care. This will boost the firms developing the artificial intelligence leading this revolution.

Those companies doing this developing are still working out the kinks. But you better believe this technology will drive sales for these, currently, obscure businesses in the near future. For now, though, I’ll stick to Maccas and grab a burger from their automated kiosk, while I imagine this exciting opportunity already unfolding in companies you can invest in now.

Dev Sinha is the co-founder of Macrovue and leads the Equity Research and Product Development teams.

Important: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. Consider the appropriateness of the information in regards to your circumstances.