Advancements in robotics are on track to reshape everything from household living to space exploration. As automatons become increasingly diverse and capable, mechanical entities are also being developed as human companions and nations are scrambling to take a place at the forefront of one of the most exciting waves in tech. Budding technologies like virtual reality displays and The Internet of Things promise to converge with robots from the likes of Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)(NASDAQ: GOOGL), iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT), and KUKA (NASDAQOTH: KUKAF)to usher in an era long foreshadowed in works of science fiction.
The nascent revolution also represents an incredible opportunity for investors, as the extent to which advancement in robotics will transform the world in the coming decades has yet to be imbedded as public knowledge. Which companies are leading the robotics push and on track to reap the benefits?
Google has a diverse lineup of robotics projects and assets
Internet giant Google is currently at work on a wide variety of robotics-related projects that could have huge upside for the company. While the exact specifics of these projects and the company's broader end game remain shrouded in the vagaries of speculation, it's clear that CEO Larry Page is positioning for a future that makes increasing use of automatons. Google has purchased at least eight companies with ties to robotics in the last year, the most high-profile of them being bipedal and quadrupedal machine maker Boston Dynamics. Videos of the firm's bots performing incredible feats of speed and traversal have generated a lot of interest, but they provide only a sliver of insight into Google's broader robotics plans.
Google takes aim at the home, road, and sky
Google is believed to be in the process of making robotics interfacing a key feature of its Android platform, a move that would make the naming of its mobile operating system particularly prescient. The company's $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest is serving as an entry point into the emerging smart home technology market that looks to catalyze the prominence of The Internet of Things and create lucrative data mining opportunities. Also on deck for Google are self-driving cars, artificial intelligence to predict and emulate human behavior, and aerial drones that could be used for mapping and covering the globe with Internet service.
The company's robotics initiatives are often described as "moonshots," and some projects surely are, but there appear to be numerous paths to commercial application. These avenues give the already mature and massive company opportunities for tremendous growth.
iRobot could clean up in the home robotics category
While Google's incredible array of resources and visibility make it a likely robotics pioneer, investors should also take a look at some pure plays in the field. One company that has been generating a lot of buzz is home robotics maker iRobot. Its autonomous Roomba vacuum cleaner bots were just the company's first step in turning household chores over to circuited servants, with machines designed to wash floors and clean gutters now available for purchase.
iRobot is also finding success with its telepresence robots and a growing presence in Asian markets. These boons have been enough to make up for the lack of growth in the government and defense contracting parts of its business.
An attractive short-term and long-term option?
iRobot's share price has approximately doubled since the beginning of 2013, and the company has established a recognizable brand in what looks to be a rapidly expanding sector. While the company generated just $5.3 million in net income in the last quarter, revenue for the year is expected to come in at approximately $500 million. With a market cap of approximately $1.16 billion, the robotics maker could be a prime target for acquisition. Given its long-term potential and the near-term possibility that the company will be snatched up at a premium, iRobot stands as one of the most exciting investment options in the field.
Robotics will build many winners
Google and iRobot aren't the only companies in position to benefit from the robotics revolution. Boeing, Amazon, ABB, and many others look to gain as robotization sweeps the globe. Investors should also take a look at KUKA, up approximately 31% since the beginning of the year and approximately 146% since August 2012. The German company generated a lot of press earlier in the year with a promotional video featuring a Ping-Pong playing robot, but much more exciting are its ventures in China, a country that reportedly purchases 20% of global industrial robotics production.
Managing risk amid hype
As a developing industry, robotics is bound to facilitate incredible success stories amid substantial failures. Sticking with more established companies as investments represents an advisable way to minimize risk while remaining open to the benefits brought on by what looks to be a transformational moment in technology. The robotics revolution is bigger than the hype, and now is a great time to stake investment positions that will help you ride the wave.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and iRobot. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.