Robots Gain Traction in Wall Street and Main Street


By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

First quarter revenue is up strongly at iRobot (IRBT), a publicly traded maker of household robotic vacuum appliances (Roomba), and also makers of battlefield robots (PackBot). Their revenue in the first quarter of 2010 increased 67 percent to $95 million compared with $57 million for the same period in 2009. Their biggest clients are the U.S. government plus lots of Roomba customers and business is good.

Profits at iRobot swung steeply to the positive at $6 million in the first quarter of 2010 compared to a $2 million loss in the same quarter last year. That is quite a statement for any company emerging from the Great Recession.

Even when economic times are rough, investments in robotics continue to gain ground at small and large companies, universities and colleges and major industrialized nations. This sets the stage for strategic alliances between government and private sectors in places like the U.S., Japan and Korea.

How fortuitous is it that a humanoid robot was jointly developed by GM and NASA in time to send it to the International Space Station just before the space shuttle fleet officially retires? That is quite a statement on the automotive sector as a high-tech hotbed.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that robots continue to permeate society. Pioneers like Intuitive Surgical (ISRG), maker of the da Vinci line of surgical robots, have brought robots to the operating room in hospitals all over the U.S. CyberKnife, a highly touted tool for treating cancer, is based on industrial robot technology. Drug discovery makes heavy use of robotics as does silicon chip making.

I’ve ridden a robot (KUKA’s Robocoaster), observed them on stage for Bon Jovi (ABB), had a drink at RoboBar (Motoman) and got my son Sure Smile orthodontic braces shaped by a Stäubli robot. Most of us have seen robots in the movies (FANUC and others) or in starring roles for TV commercials.

Children in elementary school work with robotics in the form of LEGO MINDSTORMS. Robotic competitions for high school students are all the rage thanks to FIRST. From Wall Street to my Detroit neighborhood and beyond, robots toil to entertain, serve and work with us – they are practically everywhere and at the center of good-paying, interesting jobs for new graduates and workers training for new opportunities.

Have you had an interesting or unexpected encounter with robots?

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