I generally avoid going to trade shows, being that nobody takes them seriously and they rarely yield results, but every now and then it’s fun to see what’s new. After attending a few trade shows, you will notice that it is common practice for companies to put someone with little knowledge on their business in charge of manning the booth. I suppose they do that for sport, or perhaps already know visitors no longer take trade shows seriously, since nothing ever gets done at trade shows nowadays anyways. Nevertheless, it is always fun to throw a few questions at the sales folks and end up with a pile of pamphlets in return.
The ROBOTWORLD expo today was coupled with a sundry of other related expos such as the Global Mobile Vision expo and another one whose name is unimportant because I forgot it. The Global Mobile Vision was pretty much a bunch of startup companies trying to get some traction and attention, and the Robotworld expo consisted more of larger companies unveiling their latest technology.
Beginning in 2015 and escalating very rapidly in 2016, Machine Learning technology became widespread and easily assessable by the general public via platforms made by the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, FB, IBM, Alibaba, etc (but mainly the first 2). What their intention was, which they evidently succeeded in, was to attract users to their platforms and launch new ideas and businesses, and more importantly compete with one another to create the next big app. Quite the ambitious dream. What we saw over the past 24 months was the slow but sure execution of that dream resulting in a whole multitude of startups slicing their technology at different angles and eventually ending up with similar business ideas, spawning an era of ‘chatbots’, ‘IoT apps’, Aerial mapping software with drones, and Virtual Reality apps. If you speak to any of the thousands of startups in the above industry, you will be convinced the entrepreneurs truly believe they indeed have the next big thing, but in talking to the startup next to him will realize they all pretty much have the same shit. The technology provided has incredible potential – drones, machine learning API’s, etc. – but no one has really figured out how to apply it to something useful to a broad customer base.
With drones it’s always the same rhetoric – aerial imagery/videos, mapping, rendering – and the same with machine learning – chatbots, voice recognition/translation apps – all of which I can think of hundreds of different companies vying for the same market, none of which are wildly successful yet. This consolidation is going to take a few years as the majority of these startups eventually run out of funding. Out of the ones that survive, I suspect most will run a small business that is barely profitable and stays that way. The space has become too crowded to get involved as the barrier of entry is too low. Heck, even I have a fleet of drones and was angling to compete in the aerial mapping space a short while ago. Unquestionably, the right move right now is to wait and see how the next 24 months unfold.
Naturally, the real winners are the platform providers aka GOOGL, AMZN, NVDA, FB, IBM, etc. which is precisely why I own their stock. The frenzy has just begun and I don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.
It is important that I preface my experience today with the above analysis because that almost completely summarizes what I saw at the trade show. On the startup side there were tons of the same – chatbot developers, VR gaming companies, Aerial mapping software, drones – all slightly different, very interesting, but not applicable.
The robotics side shared a similar story. If I was in he manufacturing industry (thank goodness I am not), I would be pushing people aside to get my hands on the latest equipment those companies have to offer. I would be buying that shit with both hands. For fucks sake, they have robotic arms that look like tentacles sticking out of the ground that can put things together 100x faster, smarter, and more efficient than any human possibly could.
The reality though is that for most they are looked upon as nothing other than novelty. A 5m long GUNDAM arm is cool, but it’s not practical to have in a living room.
One of the things I really admire about Korea is that their academic system now requires coding as a mandatory subject for students as young as elementary school, a direct result of willingness to adapt to changes as a society. 10 years from now those kids will be in a much better position to be competitive and current in job trends which will undoubtly require some level of coding knowledge. The future of careers in manufacturing lies not in the assembly line, but in understanding how to fix the robots that have replaced humans that were once there.
Some elementary kid operating a drone