One of the most well-known robots in history, Star Wars’ C-3PO, could fluently speak over 6 million languages. To be sure, he set a high standard, one that likely gave other robots of his age an insecurity complex.
But in all seriousness, C-3PO helped popularize the notion of using robotics in everyday life. And that day has come. 2013 will go down in history as the year robotics came of age and took center stage.
According to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the North American robotics market recorded its best year ever in 2013 with shipments of 22,591 robots valued at $1.39 billion. Looking into the future, robotics is expected to become a $14.2 billion industry in just five short years.
Investing in Robotics
The technology has become practical, purposeful, cost-effective and most important, increasingly popular across a number of key sectors. Robots are now commonplace in manufacturing, defense and military, medical and health-care industries, and even in the home.
Cars can roll off the assembly line more quickly and cheaply with the help of robotic welders, fitters and movers. And candy factories don’t have to rely on workers like Lucy and Ethel to keep up with conveyer belts to individually wrap chocolates.
Robotics can keep first responders and military personnel out of harm’s way, too – and even save lives. Pilots flying tankers over raging wildfires put their lives on the line every time they take flight.
Last year, firefighters in the Sierra Nevada used a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, a model used in Afghanistan, to successfully alert authorities to new outbreaks they were unaware of. The drone, operated by the California National Guard, was piloted from miles away.
Another example is the use of robots by SWAT teams to search a crime scene for dangerous persons or explosives. There’s even one that’s small enough to fit into a 4-inch diameter pipe in a sewer system to detect leaks.
Perhaps the most inspiring application for robotics involves medicine and health care. The development of robotic prosthetics has given way to The Paralympic Games, where amputees with carbon fiber legs run marathons and quadriplegicsmaneuver powered wheelchairs with their minds.
In many cases, robotic surgery is less painful, easier to recover from, and causes less stress on the body than traditional methods.
Finally, at-home robotics that can mop and vacuum floors, mix cocktails, prepare food and many other chores that make life a little easier are now widely available and reasonably priced.
Clearly, there are a lot of applications for robots. And the uses are expanding exponentially every year.
But as I said, robotics really came of age last year. That’s when the NASDAQ welcomed the first-ever exchange-traded fund (ETF) index based on robotics-related stocks.
The Robo-Stox Global Robotics and Automation Index ETF (NASDAQ:ROBO) includes nearly 80 different robotics-related stocks from around the world.
The ETF is well diversified across all market capitalizations, and as you’d expect is geared toward growth. A full 48% of the fund is pure growth, while 42% is blended growth and value. Most of the stocks, 43% to be exact, fall into the industrial sector while 33% are classified as tech stocks. Health care (11%), energy (4%) and consumer cyclical (4%) round out ROBO.
It’s a really interesting fund with targeted exposure that many investors are looking for these days. You likely haven’t heard of many stocks in the fund, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region, which include Keyence, FANUC, Cyberdyne and Yaskawa Electric Corp. Most of these you’d need to buy on a foreign exchange, or on the OTC market through a U.S. market maker.
Part of the attraction of ROBO is that you can get all of these foreign stocks in one shot, along with ROBO’s better-known U.S. companies, which include 3D Systems (NASDAQ:DDD) and Aerovironment (NASDAQ:AVAV).
ROBO is only up 7% since it went public in October 2013. That’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. I personally think the fund is a great place to dig deeper for individual robotics-related stocks, especially since I’m comfortable buying established foreign companies that are traded over the counter, like FANUC (OTC:FANUY).
But if you’re looking for an all-in-one general robotics play with diversity, look no further than ROBO.
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