Google to automate production lines at iPhone manufacturer Foxconn with advanced robots

iRobot Apple

Future iPhones could be built by Google robots as The Wall Street Journal reports that the search monster is working with Apple’s favorite contract manufacturer, Foxconn of Taiwan, on automating production lines.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou reportedly met with Google’s Andy Rubin in Taipei to talk new robotic technologies meant to “speed up robot deployment” at Foxconn plants. The machines would run Google’s upcoming robotic operating system for manufacturers. The two men have reportedly been collaborating since last year to carry out Google’s vision for robotics.

Eagled-eyed readers will remember that Google’s boss Larry Page in March 2013 put former Android head Andy Rubin in charge of a moonshot project to create a new generation of robots…

Sayeth WSJ:

At the meeting, Gou expressed excitement over new automation technologies demonstrated by Rubin, they said. Rubin also asked Gou to help integrate a technology company that Google is acquiring as Foxconn’s strength lies in mechanical engineering.

The search firm obviously wants to do for manufacturing what Android did for smartphones and tablets. If Foxconn indeed deploys Google’s technology, future iPhones could be built by Google robots.

For the most part, Foxconn employs tens of thousands of workers who assemble gadgets for companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Dell and others. But Foxconn wants to change this as its leader pledged in August to replace workers with robots in the next three years.

The Taiwanese firm has since deployed sophisticated machines to take care of some of the labor-intensive assembly work, but the bigger plan to deploy a million robots has hit roadblocks amid difficulties such as technological challenges and cost concerns.

Each robot costs an estimated $20,000-$25,000 to produce, meaning Foxconn would have to shell out up to $750 million just to install 30,000 machines.

Foxconn robot

The WSJ report mentions that Foxconn recently sent engineers to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn the latest manufacturing and automation technology. 

There’s no denying Google can re-imagine manufacturing by putting its expertise in automation and artificial intelligence to work.

More importantly, the Internet giant has made a number of notable acquisitions in the robotics space over the past few months. The New York Times reported Google recently acquired as much as eight robotics startups.

Among them: Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. And just last month, the firm snapped up artificial intelligence startup DeepMind Technologies.

So, ‘Designed by Apple in California, assembled by Google robots in China,’ anyone?