The Robot Report interview with Frank Tobe

Welcome to RoboPhilip.com I'm your host Philipip English and we're here today with analyst and co-founder of Robo Global and editor publisher of the Robot Report, Frank Tobe.

 

 

The Robot Report

The Robot Report gathers and reports industry news, tracking the business of robotics and Robo Global has developed an index of robot industry stocks.

After selling his business and retires for 25 years, he has provided a competed a direct marketing and consulting to the democratic national committee, major presidential and other campaigns and initiative. He has edited pursued a new career in researching and investing in robotics.

In 2013 he co-founded robo stock LOC and it was renamed in 2015 into Robo Global and developed a tracking index for robotics industry. The Robo-Global robotics and automation index.

The Robot Report Interview with Frank Tobe

Philip: Hi Frank, many thanks for your time today in joining us very much appreciate it. So I'm just gonna run you through on how's the question look and tell me a little bit about yourself and robot report, the robot report as you say. So could you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your background.

Frank: I am Frank Tobe, I'm the editor/publisher of the Robot Report. It's a news portal focusing on tracking the business side of the robotics, it's less interested in the inventions and the technology coming out of the schools and more about the business manufacturing, producing, using of robots in the real world. I come to robotics from the data processing and data mining business. I run a large business for many many years, during the transition time of the digital era. I saw the changes, I was affected by the changes. I had a computer room that cost a quarter million dollars, that’ gives you an idea.

Philip: Ok

Frank: I went from washing machine size disks to little things you pick-up in your hands that has a hundred times, a thousand times more space and computing power. And that disruption change the nature of the business and I like participating in that change. So then I sold and retired and started to look for the next disruptive activity and I think we're in it right now which is the future is the robotic industry in general, the transitioning of jobs and but it's affecting everything not just jobs. Think of a self driving cars, I just did an article this morning, haven't posted it yet, of 14 industry groups that will be seriously disruptive and self driving cars are being deployed worldwide.

Philip: Ok

Frank: It's easy to remember, for me, back to the time when the digital era start and secretaries went out and airline reservationist run out and people started doing their own typing, their own data entry. Now we buy a good majority of our stuff on-line and the nature of stores commercial activity is all changing. And this is what's happening in robotics today, so that's how I got involved. Actually I got involved because I asked by brokers  to give me a bastion of stocks that I can invest in and they didn't know any, they knew a couple and they didn't really understand that it's an international, global business and the good portion of manufacturers and companies involves in robotics are not American.

Philip:  Right, yeah this is it, obviously, I read something about like, Bill Gates is saying that this is the start of the industry  or back when he first started that robotics is pretty much where they are now, back when he first started, so you know as you were saying, you know it's the start of like a new industry and we start to see the next step and things start to grow to sort a change the world really, I can totally understand where you're coming from. I mean what do think of time frames, because they always say, it took say like 40 years to develop the computer industry you reckon to be another 40 years to hit a real peek, real fast beat for the robot industry or it's gonna be smaller?

Frank: No, I think, actually there are some very wild produce road maps, that plot out not only the time frame of how things would be deployed, but the time frame of how scientific challenges that still remain to be worked upon, will be attacked and how long will it take for them for the magic to happen and the solutions come through and then their deployment. Realistically, we wouldn't  even know how they're gonna be affected and in what areas and which stakeholders will be the most effective. I can use the self driving example because it's fresh  in my mind but if you think about the stakeholders in self driving industry, it immediately comes to mind the insurance companies, car manufacturer, professional drivers, think of some of the places that you don't think about. Car parks, garages and repair shops, parking garages. Long distance travel, I'll rephrase it, short distance travel, where in if you're driving in a a beautiful self driving car and you got screens and seats that recline, why do you need to stop in a motel along the road, why do you need to go to the airport and take a 45 minute or an hour and a half flight from Munich to Berlin where you can just get in the back, get in the back of a self driving car and dodges out.

Philip: Yeah this is it, I totally agree with you. I mean on my side, I do like a bit of training in robotics as well and obviously I try to read as many article or reports as I can to see the future. It's very hard to sort of pick the products you think, the ones that explore the industry. Sometimes what I find is actually, explaining to people and or how we can take a product and use it in the industry and sort of changing people the way, like they don't understand that they could, you know take like a mobile platform, for example and put it in here and that way you can take it out certain parts of business because this robot does it instead, and sometimes you just have to educated the people but yes it's very very hard to put products, I've seen, actually find, you know pick the ones that are actually be the ones that shoot off there and make the real changes. I mean, you said that you got a new article with 14, do you mean like 14 new manufacturers or 14 new cars that are coming out?

Frank: No, 14 industries, stakeholder industries within the self driving community that will be disruptive.

Philip: Right ok

Frank: Some very major disruption, some if you think about insurance companies there will be fewer drivers because there'll be fewer owned cars because there'll be seats of higher cars, there'll be flick discounts for insurance, there'll be according to some studies  90% less accidents. So the premium won't need to be so high. Which means the revenue strings won't be that high, which means profits won't be that high. Big changes in insurance, that is just one segment.

Philip: So for time frames, how long do you reckon it's gonna take the self driving car are coming in the next say 10 years before you see.

Frank: I've seen a variety of time frame layouts and they all show that pretty much major technologies will have kicked in by the world in 2030's and pretty much we will have gone from assisted driving. The steps of bringing, you know, adapted cruise control, lane control, automated breaking, pedestrian recognition, that'll just move by the world 2030's into total self driving vehicles. At which time the major changes will kicked in.Why own something, when you can get a point to point sleek car when you want it, for cheaper than the cost than to own it.

Philip: Yeah.

Frank: And what are you gonna do with your garage, where you store the place you use to park the car. Although that's new space, what are you gonna do with it? I was at a financial conference, and I was surprised by the kind of questions, but they're important to our discussions. When we're talking about the future of assistive robots, robots that you can work along side that are easy to communicate with, one of the things that makes for the cheaper cost and the lighter weight, these series elastic actuators which are like tendon like thing in the arms.

Philip: I've seen those, yup, yup.

Frank: The guy say that and the financial guys say's, who's making them? The first thing they say who's making 'em. Cause they're looking for companies that are going to, little known companies that provide important technology that's part of the industry that you might not know of about. The speed reducer, whoever heard of a speed reducer? Servos that something made in China, why do you think about it. Well all of these things relate to the production of robots in an economical way so, those are interesting questions to me.

Philip: Interesting. Well yeah, this it it, as you were saying that smaller the sensor that are being build, the smaller things that can be adopted to the bigger robots, you know to make them more easy to use and to make them cheaper to use as well. I've heard one of your video about the Baxter robot I believed that's got some tendon like things where if you push into the robot it will know there's a force there and it will stop. So it's a lot safer to use with human so, I think some of the examples that you're talking about, I mean like going back, so like a member of your talk is saying like the Baxter robot and the Universal robot with 2 main players, are those still the 2 main player in your eyes or there have been  a few other robot companies that's producing these robots that work with people that you think are worth on keeping an eye on for?

Frank: Well the nature of that marketplace is changing because a couple of big companies have low cost entries and they have just been  getting their act together. If you think about , ABB for instance, this is a major robotic provider of heavy duty robots, for them to have a low price robotic arm, is to have a real problem, volume selling, they have revived upon a network of distributors and integrators can these engineering companies handle these kind of volume and there is big volume in collaborative robots and assistive robots. I heard a talk by the guy who heads up robotics at BMW which is I think BMW is also Nissan, that I could be confused about that. But I think it is and the 2 of them, use 7,500 robots at the present time. They did a study with Universal robots and found that they could put double, triple even quadruple the number of robots to work on a remaining task in the automobile assembly process, and so long they were cheap and they were flexible they didn't require the fencing,the being fixed to the concrete with all that extra stuff.

Philip: Safety around it yeah

Frank: But if you think that he's saying that he's also said that they were planning their test were successful. They're actually planning to acquire them, that to me is, I mean, that is 15,000 to 30,000 robots would be BMW is planning to acquire in the next short while. Big numbers all is up and Universal is finding orders of that magnitude. The original idea was that this assistive robots will be for smaller, medium size businesses, who knew that the larger automotive companies would want them also. And they're also finding that the large electronic manufacturers want them as well. If they can fit into a space in an assembly line, narrow, lightweight, sit next to humans and do, you know plug-ins, intricate task, snapping these intricate task, that haven't been able to have been done before and past the results to human on either side, is a wonderful thing and thousands of these robots could be deployed.

Philip: This is it and you can understand for the bigger company that obviously see that. They can obviously to put a robot with humans, then they can speed up the process, obviously if they make faster process that's how they can produce more or make more money so it makes sense to bring that type of technology. I mean, so we've seen the robots that work alongside human, I've seen like what's your thought on the advertiser robots that you get like these mobile platforms, there's drones, there's even types of robots that I've seen in warehouse that actually hang from the ceiling, actually dispense from the ceiling and can pick up things from the ceiling so, is that growing as well, you see more of that side or..

Frank: Well warehousing has an interesting thing as people are up and is faster. The nature of warehousing is changing. The big warehouses with floor to 4 storey high of ceilings of racks and this top down things like you saw grabbing and then putting on to various expensive conveyors are being replaced and AMAZON is a perfect example on how they are being replaced. AMAZON is making these very fast warehouses that are single storey height with free form shelvey, cheap plastic shelvey and they are using their KEEVA style  robots to pick up that shelvey and bring it to a picker packer and then return it. The result is that you can established warehouse in very short amount of time because you don't need to build shelves, you don't need to build conveyors, you don't need to get the board's approval for super expensive capital investment. You don't need to do return of investments studies that plot out for multi multi years, these new high speed warehouse deployments, Keeva style goods demand systems are much cheaper, they're being invested in these days quickly they're predicated on a very flexible, mobile platform, where you can put an arm on, you can put a vent on it, you can put a cart on it, shelves on it. It's one of those magic moments when, this is a major change in warehousing and corresponded to the change that consumers buying on line and the need for immediate delivery.

Philip: And this is it, and both these platforms you know, as you said in the Baxter and mobile platforms that are around the warehouse but we've seen those technology going to places or like hospitals as well, so you know you get a robot like Keeva that would go around the hospital like delivering drugs on time or things to the patient's bed so the doctor or nurses doesn't have to walk up and down the aisle doing all these chores you know, but it makes health care a lot, like lot more efficient so the warehouse robot are moving over to the medical side and as you were saying we don't really know how they can literally mold into different type of industry so that's another.

Frank: See, if we think about it as a platform we start of for it being tow, it can tow linen around hospital, it could tow trays for dinner dishes, then if you think about it as more advanced platform, you can put a rack box on top of it and start delivering medication, that only the nurse has a key so thats a platform, that's platform application. And using the same two devices then you can dispatch depending on the navigation system. You can dispatch it from room to room, floor to floor and pretty soon there's an industry there, and there is. There is one company that's leading the path that's called ASON and they're well known in hospitals and growing and hospitals around the country around the world actually needs this kind of things, cause nurses are in short supply and you don't want a nurse travelling down to the pharmacy to get the pills when you can get a robot to do it and schedule when you want it.

Philip: this is it, this is it just making the whole thing a lot more efficient so yeah. And I guess so this is what your Robot Report is always about really and having to look at the new technologies that are coming out how they're going into different industry, and that's why I love that the articles that you write cause they're always like relevant to things that you know things that happen in the future but things that are gonna happen in the industry now and things are changing. So I know you started back in 2008? Is that right?

Frank: Yes!

Philip: So was it just you started up with a few articles about robotics and you expanded it out. You started going to more shows and learning more

Frank: Exactly I put my 10,000 hours in trying to really learn the industry and also at the same time compiling a database of all the relevant companies and which ones those are public, publicly traded and on the stock market and which ones are not or are likely to be in sometime in the immediate future. If you think about Universal robots, they're collaborative robots. They're very successful company, they got acquired instead of going public but I tracked them with the hope that maybe someday I could invest in it in stock. As it is I can't, so I have its' database where a good portion of which is free and available online for people to look at. Go ahead.

Philip:  Sorry mate, I'll start that again. So what's I'm gonna ask you about the database is Frank, that you have a list of companies there. So if you own a robotics company or associates robotic company can they come to you and ask to put on your database as well or you would sort put them on there or should be like a specific types of company?

Frank:  Every company is vegged, investigated to make sure it's in the robotics industry. I do ask companies to send, if they find they're not already in the index, to send me information and I'll check it out. I'm surprised that how many companies I already have, it's over 4,500 companies, a very busy plot on a global map, but it's interesting.

Philip: That's quite a lot in there

Frank: the stocks which represent less than 10% of the overall number that's a different story that's a very valuable list. And infact some financial type set up companies that made an index with the information that I've provided and those indexes have turned into a neutral funding in Japan, new one coming in Taiwan, a couple exchange funds one in Europe one in America so what they're showing is an interest investors in financial types in the robotics industry. Interest that you and I have.

Philip: So obviously this place also to your Robo talk which you rename Robo global, I believe now? So for like a layman's term so how many companies are in robo global and if you can give us a brief explanation of how it works sort of thing and you got into it

Frank: The index has a little over 80 companies they're split into two groups what we call the Bellwether and Up and coming. A Bellwether is a Irobot where their sole business is in robotics and up and coming would be a company of that maybe has a robotic arm or has an engineering department that is trying to take over a lot of automation task and developing things that they're not really selling and to a major scale yet but they're dabbling in drones are an man vehicles but they're not there yet

Philip: Ok so new things

Frank: Or they are ancillary business such as the maker of series elastic actuator or servos or speed reducers

Philip: And like how did you pick these companies Frank? Or was it a specific choice on picking them or is it a group or team of people who actually have a look into these companies and say, yeah that's the one or .

Frank: Ah robo global is made up of a few financial types and a few robotic advisers. As a co founder i'm just still an adviser i provide them with the list of the companies that are out there that are well truly robotic or at least involve in robotic sector they then pick out those that have the most dollar value, most stability the most, mean there are a lot of fly by night stocks scams, couple which I've try to point out from time to time on the robot report but mostly we try to limit companies to those that have a high market value that have a daily training volume that won't prohibit me from getting in and out if I feel like it. And they're reputable and have a strategic interest in robotics and so there are 80 plus stocks that fit that category, and of which 25 or so are Bellwether of true blue robotics stocks and the rest are up and coming

Philip: And it exactly gonna expand in the future then or it's always gonna sit around that 80 number?

Frank: I can imagine that it will expand and I can also imagine that there might be subsets of it for those who want a more manage account. I'm a retired guy I want some solid conservative investment basket with these many stocks in there as I can so that i grow with the industry and don't get killed when one stock froze things off dramatically

Philip: This is it, obviously going back to your like I ask the Robot Report, this is something that's growing with the industry as well. I mean you know I also reading there a few years ago and it goes it gets more and more informative I can see how it expand. The more and more people know you so not only doing it with your stocks but also doing it like web blog as well. And it's very very useful for us in the industry to read what's happening. I mean, so moving on to the Robot Report, what's the next, yeah like so what was the next year like looking out towards it, is it you got more show to go to, introduce more show or is it have you got plans for 2016 - 2017 or is

Frank: Well 2016 my travel calendar is 2 automatically, which is a big trade show in Munich and also to speak at Robo business which is a pretty good robotic conference non scientific, business oriented, in San Jose in fall. A show like robo business that has tons of exhibitors who is father for 20 articles that are stimulated by seeing them in person talking to the people, making contacts and so on. A conference such as Robo business is similar lots of speaker talking about the applications of robotics, in between that i'm working in a agricultural project that will culminate in a research report coming out late summer probably where I have used my list and database to make contact and connect with all the players in agriculture developing robotic devices that could be useful or are useful and what they're doing and what's their time table for being able to sell them. So that's it for this year

Philip:  Yes that's something I'd love to see actually cause , the agriculture side of the industry is very interesting, cause again you know there's not so many farmers and you know not so many people went to work in farms so the idea to have robots to do those types of work for you, you know it's very very interesting. I think it's gonna be a very fast growing industry aswell, I mean I saw some new products over Innorobo last year that was tow and killed weeds and sense of bad things in the crops so yeah I'll be looking forward to that report. Have you got a good collections of company already to put that report together or...

Frank: It's interesting, again it's a series of numbers there are about 140 companies around the world that are making something robotic for agriculture. Of them I've surveyed them all, and talk on all of them, some of them don't give me information. And some of them will and I'll probably will have 70 or 80 companies that I'm gonna profile. And of them 15 will be really interesting and the rest will be informative

Philip: Ok

Frank: Overall you can pick up the flavor of what's happening and I think i can say the flavor is slowness and conservativeness. Which is traditional in agricultural world they move slow and everything needs to be cost sensitive nevertheless there's a really great stuff coming on line.

Philip: Brilliant, Right Frank thanks for that Frank, just to give us a quick overview of the robot report and your future plans and idea how people in education world can obviously use of Robot Report

Frank: Let me just say that the Robot Report offers not just information for people like you and me that were interested in the industry it offers through the global map an opportunity for job seekers to look up for start-ups that are there in their area and link over to their websites give them a ring look what they are offering and you know with start-ups they always need people. So it's a job seekers resource and as you tell people within the university or academia please tell them about the global map. And what a terrific resource it is for job seekers. It's also good just to know the businesses that are in the area, because if you are trying to established a network of technologist to work with it's good to know who's in your neighborhood.

Philip: Right brilliant, thanks Frank thanks very much for your time. Very much appreciate it and the overview of the Robot Report. I'll put in links below for all the guys can find you and keep up to date with you. So thanks very much Frank

Frank: Very good thanks for having me on your show.

That's it guys for our Robot report interview, I'm your host Philip English.

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