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Leading Companies in the Development of Robotics and AI

We believe that robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) is a transformational technological development with the potential to disrupt a range of industries over the coming decades. To further explore this theme, we took a deeper dive into examples of companies leading in four categories targeted by the Global X Robotics and Artificial Intelligence ETF (BOTZ):

Industrial Robotics and Automation
Non-Industrial Robotics
Unmanned Vehicles and Drones
Artificial Intelligence

While many believe robotics has only recently become a viable technology, some firms have been involved in the space for decades. FANUC, for example, has been a prominent player in the robotics and automation industry since the early 1970’s. The firm focuses on industrial automation and is one of the chief suppliers of robotic machinery to the Japanese and US automobile industries.1 The company largely focuses on developing computerized numerical control (CNC) systems, which are robotic machines that can be fed specific instructions and then execute on those instructions with a high degree of accuracy and efficiency. An example of these instructions could be to lift up a piece of sheet metal from a stack, press it into a specific shape, and weld it to a car frame.

FANUC’s commitment to enhancing the industrial manufacturing process through robotics technology is deep within the firm’s own DNA; FANUC not only sells robotic tools to customers, but also employs those same robots in its own manufacturing process. FANUC is a forerunner in the “lights out” manufacturing process wherein its own robots build the products the company sells. The company’s factory operates without humans; there isn’t even a need for lights or an HVAC system.

We view robotics & AI as a transformational theme because its disruptive force is not limited to industrial manufacturing. Health care is one non-industrial segment that is rapidly adopting robotics technology. Companies such as Intuitive Surgical are pioneering robotic-assisted surgery in an effort to improve patient outcomes. The firm builds robotic devices used in minimally invasive surgeries including wristed instruments that can bend and rotate further than a human hand. These robotic devices enable surgeons to operate with enhanced vision, precision, and control, which can lead to less damage to patients’ nerves, quicker healing, and smaller scars versus the more traditional ‘human-only’ way of performing selected surgeries.2

A study published in European Urology revealed that prostate cancer patients who underwent robotic-assisted surgeries had fewer cancer cells, lost less blood, and spent less time recovering in the hospital. Since 2000, the da Vinci robotic surgical system has now been used in more 3 million surgeries.3

Although militaries remain the predominant users of drone technology, commercial usage is accelerating as firms incorporate drones into parcel delivery, agriculture, inspections, and emergency response. According to the FAA, commercial drone usage is expected to grow 10-fold from 2016 to 2021.4

One prominent player in the space is Parrot, which develops drones, software, and accessories for both amateurs and professionals. While early adopters of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) included business-to-consumer (B2C) flight enthusiasts and photographers, Parrot has become increasingly focused on the business-to-business (B2B) market. The company has found that UAVs mounted with HD cameras can effectively monitor production and yield on farms, inspect buildings, pipelines, and power lines, and generate 3D models of buildings and interiors.5

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an essential component to the advancement of robotics technology. AI allows robots to not just execute on human or pre-planned inputs, but also to operate in an unstructured environment and make decisions. In order to carry out these tasks, an essential component of AI is ‘robotic vision’ or the ability for machines to image and process their surroundings. One firm dedicated to advancing this space is Faro Technologies, which develops high precision imaging devices and software. The application for this technology is virtually boundless; it can create 3D models and measurements of large environments or small goods, compare parts and structures for quality assurance, or rapidly prototype items.6

This software has become particularly popular among factories using the imaging software for automated inspections and calibrations. The software has also found applications in construction for surveying purposes as well as public safety for investigating fires, crime scenes, and accidents.7

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