Robotics Fundsters Pick a Chief
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robotics Fundsters Pick a Chief

Robo Stox, a new firm focused on robotics ETFs and indexing, is plotting a big sales push with the recent hire of Travis Briggs as CEO.

Briggs came over from Smith Asset Management in Dallas, Texas, where he was director of business development and created the firm's Private Client Group. Prior to that he served as Chief Operating Officer and Director of Business Development at Dallas-based hedge fund, Discovery Management.

The fund, which launched last year, has about $150 million in assets from private investors and Frank Tobe, the co-founder of the firm, expects Briggs to be able to bring in another $300-$400 million in new money from an American investor base.

The fund will also be listed on the London Stock Exchange this summer and Tobe is considering building mutual fund and hedge fund products to follow the ETF strategy. The existing offering invests in fairly "safe" robotics stocks that are part of the S&P 500, whereas the mutual fund and hedge fund versions could pursue riskier companies and private ones.

Tobe, who recently sat down with MFWire in New York to talk about his new firm, has been living and breathing robotics for years. He has been writing The Robot Report, a blog dedicated to robotics' business coverage, since 2007 and still posts on it 10-20 times a month. Prior to that, he ran a company that consulted the Democratic National Committee on data and digital marketing for over 25 years.

These days, Tobe has focused his attention on robotics, as companies and products in the space are growing exponentially around the world and there are few, if any, other investment vehicles dedicated to the space. Service robotics, in particular, have been growing faster than industrial ones and Tobe thinks this will continue to be the case. He estimates that service robots will grow to $28 billion by 2020 from $3 billion in 2013.

On the topic of whether robots will take over the world (and all our jobs), he doesn't think so. Tobe believes that robots will help automate various busy work that humans don't want to do anyway, such as agriculture, busboy jobs, dishwashers, some forms of healthcare, personal assistant work, etc. There's a machine in San Francisco that's testing out the automation of making hamburgers, for instance, that averages 450 per hour. (Quality of hamburgers? TBD).

Tobe also recently spent some time with the owner of a farm in California that's using a robot for strawberry harvesting on 100 acres of land. He went through the automated process with the farm owner. "And then I saw thousands of hispanic people crawling on the ground and doing the same thing by hand," he said, which looked like a much more onerous process.

What this will mean for Hispanic immigration into the U.S.? Also, TBD. But it looks like AI, which is now a commonly used acronym for both Artificial Intelligence and Alternative Investments, are here to stay.

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