The 2020s – A decade of transformation for the world economy
Welcome to the 2020s, a decade that looks set to be shaped, in part, by the increasingly sophisticated robotics and artificial intelligence technologies that are set to proliferate in many areas of our economic lives. As we start this new decade, it is a good moment for investors in robotics to take stock of where we are and to look ahead at the some of the themes which are likely to shape industry in the period ahead.
The last few years have seen the initial signs of diversification from robots solely being used in high volume manufacturing processes, such as car-making, towards a broader set of application areas. Robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn-movers, whilst not yet widespread, have become more commonplace in households; and people are increasingly likely to be speaking to their electronic devices, in particular smart-speakers such as Alexa or Google Home.
It also appears that the era (since the mid-eighties) of largely unchecked flows of goods, people and capital may be coming to an end. Globalisation, whilst having delivered lower consumer prices, is increasingly being perceived to have also resulted in slower growth, precarious employment and social disruption. If this is indeed the case, it is likely that the UK will continue developing explicit national industrial policies to boost spending on R&D and sharpen its focus on raising domestic productivity. This could to lead to a more benign climate for the growth of embryonic domestic robotics businesses in the near-term but might limit their scope for the export-led opportunities in the long-run as well.
We anticipate many more robotics use-cases developing over the forthcoming years as the price of robots continue to fall whilst the cost-of-labour increases. (The minimum wage in the UK is rising 6.2% this year to £8.72 per hour.) Increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence capabilities are allowing robotic platforms to act with greater autonomy and precision, addressing ever more nuanced and unpredictable tasks. Further to this, continued advancements in computing-power and communication networks will support the increasing adoption of ‘plug-and-play’ robots by small and medium-sized businesses and open-up sectors that are currently untouched by widespread robotics adoption.
Trends which we believe drive growing levels of robotic adoption, namely falling global productivity, shrinking labour pools and increasing personal workloads, show few signs abating. We see some of biggest opportunities for robotics in markets where it is difficult to hire and retain labour. Sectors such as construction, agriculture and elderly care seem particularly ripe for robotic disruption of this sort. We also expect that some categories of products and services which are currently scarce or uneconomic will become more abundant in the forthcoming decade because of their roboticisation. Potential candidate areas for this type of transformation may include: chauffeuring and other types of domestic service; localised environmental interventions; and highly individualised product customisations.
Whilst stereotypes of a roboticised future tend often to be dystopian, it is our view that the forthcoming changes are likely to be gradual yet widespread and in many ways unremarkable. Nonetheless, given the breadth of robotics invention currently underway, it’s safe to assume that capable autonomous devices will be playing a much greater role in everyone’s lives by the time the New Year chimes usher in the 2030s.
Dominic Keen, CEO Britbots
Having successfully floated his mobile software business on the London Stock Exchange in 2013, Dominic founded Britbots in 2016 to support best in class UK robotics, ai and automation start-ups and capitalise from the UK’s technology prowess in these areas. Since then, Britbots has invested in 15 exciting, high-growth companies and helped support an exciting new generation of intelligent autonomous machines that promise to transform our world.