Tech Trends: Robotics and the Cloud

Most people think of science-fiction movies when talking about robotics. In reality, it’s a lot less giant, talking, human-like machines and a lot more manufacturing arms and pre-programmed computers. Think of precision surgery that can now be performed by a robotic arm – even from a completely different city – or precision manufacturing on a fast-moving assembly line.

While a large portion of the robotics and automation industry is behind the scenes, it’s still a powerful mega-trend that is changing the global economy and creating a lot of great investment opportunities worth keeping an eye on.

The increasing use of robotics in manufacturing is a perfect example of how a company can cut costs by replacing a human with a machine, while at the same time increasing production and quality. According to an example cited by the Robotic Industries Association, a typical $250,000 installation – which includes training and parts – can pay for itself in two years through reduced payroll costs and increased productivity. Extrapolate that out over seven or eight years and the cumulative cash flow gained can reach $1.5 million.

Once the upfront costs are paid off, medium-sized robots can cost just $0.50 an hour to operate. For larger robots, it’s closer to $1. Still, that’s a lot less than minimum wage.

It’s no surprise that robots have become increasingly popular over the years, and unit sales of industrial robots are expected to rise 13% a year through 2019. That would push the number of robots in operation to 2.6 million, up from 1.8 million currently.

There are many ways to go about playing this trend, including the manufacturers of the robots and automation devices, the chip makers that are the brains of the robots, companies that are implementing the devices, the software makers that are driving the devices and more. What makes this sector so intriguing is that nearly every industry is increasing their exposure to robotics and automation. Manufacturing, healthcare, energy, agriculture, security, and others are already using robotics/automation to improve their businesses. There is a lot of money to be made here, and in keeping with our NexGen approach, we can do better by going beyond the obvious places Wall Street is looking.

Another powerful tech trend is the cloud. That may not seem like a next-gen investment theme since the term is now well-known as something other than what’s in the sky. But this remains a fast-growing space as more and more data is being created. As a result, new storage demands are coming up all the time, and that’s where our next-gen opportunity comes from.

As a society, we have become accustomed to having everything we could possibly need at our fingertips. We’ve already talked about how this has played into mobile payment technology, but it also has a lot to do with storage. Credit card information, passwords and other private and personal information is saved on the cloud. And millennials are storing everything from pictures to files to basically their entire life stories there. Without the cloud, none of this would be possible.

According to research firm IDC, worldwide spending on public cloud services has the potential to more than double from $70 billion in 2015 to more than $140 billion by 2018. That’s a whole lot of potential to capitalize on, and there are plenty of companies vying for their spot at the top of the industry.

One I like in particular is 2U (TWOU), a leading cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company that works with nonprofit colleges and universities to deliver their education to their students no matter where they are. Think prestigious schools like NYU, Yale and UNC. All of these are big, well-known universities that offer online degrees, and they’re all customers of 2U. The stock is up nearly 40% so far this year and trading at all-time highs, which is why we use the charts to identify optimum buy and sell points, but overall I continue to see plenty of upside ahead.

There are a lot more tech trends to talk about, so keep an eye out for my next article. Thanks for reading!

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