Move over Blockchain, The Robots Are Here!

by Tim Sloane 0

This article in Financial Times indicates that robots are becoming the new hot new investment area for VC dollars. So will blockchain startups find future rounds more difficult and how quickly will FIs need to build a robot army?

“The arrival of the robots — and their potentially devastating effect on human employment — has been widely predicted. Now, the machines are starting to roll or walk out of the labs. In the process, they are about to tip off a financing boom as robotics — and artificial intelligence — becomes one of the hottest new markets in tech.

After growing at a compound rate of 17 per cent a year, the robot market will be worth $135bn by 2019, according to IDC, a tech research firm. A boom is taking place in Asia, with Japan and China, which is in the early stages of retooling its manufacturing sector, accounting for 69 per cent of all robot spending.

Although the amount of money flowing into a new robotics industry is still at a relatively early stage, all the lead indicators of the innovation economy are pointing up. Patent filings covering robotics technology — one sign of the expected impact — have soared. According to IFI Claims, a patent research company, annual filings have tripled over the past decade. China alone accounted for 35 per cent of robot-related patent filings last year — more than double nearest rival Japan.

In another sign of the expected boom, venture capital investments more than doubled last year to $587m, according to research firm CB Insights.

Other investors are also piling in, says Manish Kothari of SRI International, a Silicon Valley research and development lab that has spun off robot companies. From private equity investors looking to build portfolios of robot investments, to new “incubators” such as Playground, started by former Google robotics chief Andy Rubin, the investment options have been proliferating rapidly.”

If the all in cost of $1 an hour is accurate, the impact would be mindboggling

“Like the arrival of PCs, the new era promises to take the technology into many more areas of working life. “The traditional industrial robots are mainframes — what we’re doing are PCs,” says Scott Eckert, chief executive of Rethink Robotics, a US company whose robots help with packing or tend machines. Rethink says that the all-in cost of its Sawyer robotic arm amounts to about $1 an hour, a price at which many of the jobs that have been beyond the reach of automation could be affected.”

Mercator’s 2015 prediction that machine learning would have a major impact on financial institutions over the next five years is further validated:

“Another feature the robot makers are counting on is to be able to use the learning capabilities of their initial products to achieve rapid improvements and gain an advantage over rivals that are slower to get their machines into the market.

“Once you ship the device, you can apply more and more intelligence and machine learning,” says Mr Grishin, the Russian robot investor. The trick, he says, will be to find a task that the relatively dumb machines are able to handle, then use knowledge gained in the field to rapidly add to their capabilities and usefulness. “First put them in consumers’ hands, then learn from their behaviour.” This is the secret weapon that all robot companies rely on. “Everything gets better over time,” says Mr Jurvetson. “This is happening in almost every hardware product: they are becoming minimal vessels for software.”

This technological shift has set traditional robotics leaders in Japan and Germany against nascent industries in countries such as the US and China.”

The first robot deployed within a bank was Pepper, which was on center stage with IBM at the Consumer Electronics Show because it utilizes Watson for its smarts. Initially used to help consumers apply for a mortgage, it will be interesting to see how rapidly Pepper can learn new topics. A robot designed to perform a range of cash in and cash out services, as an ATM replacement was demonstrated last February at the ATMIA conference in New Orleans. This money robot (trademarked MonRo) sits in the middle of several modules with each module enabling a different service to be performed. Check to cash, cash to deposit, cash to remittance, any cash operations can in theory be carried out by MonRo.

Get ready, change is afoot!

Overview by Tim Sloane, VP. Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group