October 26, 2016      

“Make America Great Again.” That’s the slogan of the presidential candidate who has unexpectedly shaken up U.S. politics. Donald Trump has said a lot of things challenging both Democratic and Republican orthodoxy, but can Trump affect the robotics industry through his proposed policies?

We’ve looked at Trump’s positions on immigration, foreign policy, and defense since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. At first, the phrase “Make America Great Again” doesn’t appear to be relevant to the robotics business, but there are signs of major changes in the U.S. if Trump is elected on Nov. 8.

Legal immigration concerns

Trump catapulted his campaign into the spotlight by focusing on a few areas, one of them being immigration. His plan for immigration reform covers many areas, but two parts apply to robotics.

First, one of the Trump platform’s stated goals is to “suspend, on a temporary basis, immigration from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism.”

Given the volatility of current geopolitics, immigration from certain countries could be considered more risky than from others. For example, parts of Asia such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Philippines could see U.S.-bound immigration suffer due to their large Muslim populations and past struggles with terrorism.

Can Trump change the U.S. robotics talent pool?

Donald Trump as reimagined by Google DeepMind.

Or, people from certain European nations could face challenges to coming into the U.S. because of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and recent attacks throughout the continent.

In other words, countries where your organization may be looking for talent could be off-limits under a Trump presidency.

Second, Trump wants to reform the H-1B system. In a 10-point speech, Trump laid out that he wants to “establish new immigration controls to boost wages and to ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.”

To do this, Trump plans to push U.S. companies into hiring American workers by requiring that H-1B workers be paid salaries equal to those of similar U.S. workers.

Do you have a plan for employees with H-1B visas and who may no longer have them under a Trump presidency? Would you still hire H-1B workers if they cost the same amount as local workers?

How can Trump’s trade policy affect our neighbors?

The GOP nominee and businessman has been vocal about his stance on trade: It should benefit the U.S. At the top of this is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The fourth point in Trump’s seven-point plan to balance trade is “Tell NAFTA partners that we intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers. If they don’t agree to a renegotiation, we will submit notice that the U.S. intends to withdraw from the deal.”

Canada is a member of NAFTA and relies on the U.S. for 75 percent of its exports. At the same time, the U.S. has been acquiring artificial intelligence and robotics talent from Canada.

If NAFTA breaks down and Canada loses out to the U.S. economically, how will Ottawa respond to U.S. robotics companies acquiring Canadian innovations? How will automakers react to changes in U.S.-Mexico trade?

U.S. foreign policy under scrutiny

Since Trump is running against a former secretary of state, it’s no surprise that his foreign policy proposals are radically different from the current administration’s track record.

Trump has questioned the relevance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He has asked why the U.S. is paying so much while other NATO members pay so little.

If the U.S. were to drastically change its role in NATO — or even leave the bloc — countries such as the U.K. could view this as a huge blow to their collective security. This could force London to adopt a different tone with Washington in other areas — like robotics.

The U.S. has been acquiring British AI firms. To retaliate, could the U.K. and others follow Germany, which is considering measures to stop non-EU members from acquiring European technology companies?

Strong on defense

Can Trump’s proposals provide opportunities rather than risks for the U.S. robotics industry? Some can.

Can Trump provide opportunities for defense robotics?

DARPA’s Sea Hunter unmanned warship.

Take defense. Trump has said he wants to “rebuild the U.S. Navy toward a goal of 350 ships, provide the U.S. Air Force with the 1,200 fighter aircraft they need,” and “grow the U.S. Marine Corps to 36 battalions.”

In a first term ranging from 2017 to 2021, these objectives would likely mean an enhanced focus on robotics, such as DARPA’s recent initiatives called “Sea Hunter” for anti-submarine warfare and Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Can Trump’s defense goals lead to a new military robotics innovations in the U.S. — and new funding for research and development?

Robots and drones could control illegal immigration

Part of Trump’s 10-point immigration-reform plan is to stop illegal immigration by starting work on an “impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on Day One” and moving “criminal aliens out [on] Day One.”

Both objectives could lead to new investments in robotics, AI, and drones.

To find and expel criminal aliens, can Trump’s administration deploy AI to track these people and identify where they are, helping authorities to detain them?

At the same time, building an impenetrable physical wall between the U.S. and Mexico would take time. However, construction robots can cut the cost and time significantly. Robots such as those from Australia-based Fastbrick Robotics can lay up to 1,000 bricks an hour and build a house in two days, all without ever stopping for breaks or asking for wages.

Can Trump deploy construction robots to build his infamous wall?

More on Robotics Policies:

Can Trump restore U.S. manufacturing?

While Trump hasn’t addressed robotics and automation directly, he has spoken on the devastation that many manufacturing cities have experienced over the past several decades. This focus on bringing back jobs to auto workers, coal miners, steel workers, and more could influence his policies around industrial automation.

At the same time, many of Trump’s proposals would provide opportunities for robotics suppliers. As a result, robotics companies need to ask two questions when it comes to a Trump administration.

Will my innovations challenge what Trump’s supporters want (jobs), and can my innovations be used to help Trump achieve his objectives (like a secure wall)?

In my next article, we’ll look at Hillary Clinton’s positions and how they might affect the U.S. robotics industry.