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Asian countries invest more in industrial robots than Europe, U.S.

Data: Information Technology & Innovation Foundation; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

A common way to measure the use of robots around the world shows that wealthy countries — like Korea, Singapore, Germany and the U.S. — are way ahead of the curve, while China flounders behind unlikely characters like Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

Why it matters: Taking wages into account changes the landscape dramatically. When comparing countries’ actual robot adoption to the quantity one would expect based on their wage levels, Asian countries far outstrip Europe and the U.S.

Details: A new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation created baselines for expected robot adoption using manufacturing workers’ pay. Then, ITIF compared each country's baseline to the actual number of robots there.

  • The report's authors argue this measure is more useful than the more standard one: the number of industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers.
  • "That’s not the real story, because robots cost money," ITIF president Robert Atkinson says in a video released with the report. "It makes sense to install more of them in countries with high wages, because they pay for themselves more quickly that way."
  • The new ranking, reproduced above, shows which countries are investing in robots beyond the standard level that ITIF says makes economic sense for that country.

China in particular leapt from laggard to leader in ITIF’s reassessment.

  • As we’ve written before, the country is moving swiftly to become a robotics superpower, both as a consumer and a producer.
  • "We project it will lead the world in robot adoption in less than a decade, controlling for wage levels," says Atkinson.

The countries at the high end of the graph above generally have national strategies or policies in place for investing in robots, the ITIF report says.

  • By contrast, the 16th place American finish "reflects an overall lag in capital expenditures by U.S. manufacturers and an almost complete lack of a national robotics strategy."
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