Frank Tobe on “What do policy-makers need to do to keep pace with economic development?”
As an active robotics investor, a leading authority on the business of robotics, and the author of The Robot Report and Everything Robotic, you are at the pulse of the field’s economic development. In a nutshell, what’s happening in robotics today?
I think the biggest thing happening today is the acceptance of the low-cost Baxter and Universal robots into SMEs and small factories everywhere. Sales will likely be 2% of the total; 5% in 2014, and possibly 15% in 2015. That’s growth! And that’s before the big four robot makers start selling their low-cost entry robots for SMEs. This has more near-term promise than unmanned aerial or ground vehicles in agriculture and elsewhere. These co-robots are proving that we need more high-tech people and fewer low-skilled people in this globally competitive economy.
What are the major policies that foster, steer, or hinder the robotics industry?
There are at least three levels where knowledgeable people influence the outcome of the strategic planning and legislative process: at the Presidential fact-finding level; within congressional committees and in the Congress and Senate itself; and at the judicial level. Infiltrating technology whiz-kids into these positions isn’t enough of a solution because there’s more to the debate than just knowledge of the technology. There are also the ethical considerations, possible long-term consequences and alternative solutions to consider. Hence the need for wise leaders to pick balanced teams of advisors covering all aspects of strategic issues.
Can you point out some examples of different policies in different regions/countries and their effects?
China is locking up long-term resources contracts for energy, agricultural land, shipping by sending out manpower everywhere to make it happen. Most other countries just compete on price and trade for deals.
What are the other main drivers of economic development?
Lower costs for sensors, components and robots; global competition; demand for higher quality; new marketplaces for the DDD of robotics: food processing, agriculture, SMEs, healthcare; diminishing low-cost labor; growing population of seniors.
Do you have concrete suggestions for policy-makers?
Think long term. Include unanticipated consequences and alternatives. Cooperate with the other stakeholders to make all happy. Regarding international issues, follow the advice of Ian Goldin.
The complete answers to these questions more complex. To learn more, read Frank Tobe’s in-depth article on how policy should — and does — shape economic development.