The German automobile giant Mercedes-Benz (ETR: MBG) deployed humanoid robots at its factories in a bid to determine if robots can help human workers in manufacturing.

Announced on Friday, the deal is with Austin, Texas-based Apptronik. The automaker will use Apptroniks’ humanoid robots to automate certain low skill, physically demanding and manual labour jobs.

The new fleet of robots includes a bipedal robot called Apollo. It stands at a height of five feet eight inches, weighs 160 pounds, and possesses the capability to lift up to 55 pounds. Engineers designed and built Apollo to operate alongside humans in industrial spaces.

Mercedes and Apptronik are actively exploring potential use cases for the robots.  Early early indications suggests they will be employed for tasks such as delivering and inspecting parts. The exact number of robots remains uncertain, although trials are already underway at the automaker’s factory in Hungary.

This country has faced a labour shortage in recent years due to workers migrating to western Europe.

Furthermore, Apollo’s computing power enables leading AI companies to solve use cases beyond those initially addressed by Apptronik.  These are akin to the iPhone concept, which offers world-class, user-friendly hardware with pre-built applications and the capability to incorporate third-party developed applications.

Quitting time. Apollo goes back in the box. Image via Apoptronik.

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Mercedes conducts trial in labour shortage racked Hungary

BMW (FWB: BMW) has initiated trials of automatons at one of its factories, as has Chinese start-up Nio, while Tesla has also announced its intention to manufacture robots for factory use. Earlier this month, Elon Musk shared a video of Tesla Inc‘s (NASDAQ: TSLA) Optimus models cautiously navigating through a plant and performing basic functions such as table folding.

“This is a new frontier and we want to understand the potential both for robotics and automotive manufacturing to fill labour gaps in areas such as low skill, repetitive and physically demanding work and to free up our highly skilled team members on the line to build the world’s most desirable cars,” said Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Production, Quality and Supply Chain Management.

Substituting costly workers with robotic alternatives can appear appealing as a means to reduce expenses and enhance quality in intricate modern auto plants with minimal room for error.

However, success is not assured. During the tumultuous production ramp-up of the Tesla Model 3 in 2017, the carmaker attempted to replace numerous workers with robotic arms, only to remove them later and revert to manual functions for many processes.

Goldman Sachs predicts that the global humanoid industrial robot market could achieve a value of US$38 billion by 2035, with analysts observing that “humanoids are particularly appealing for tasks that are ‘dangerous, dirty, and dull.’” The team also proposes that customers might be willing to pay a premium for robots capable of performing hazardous tasks that humans are reluctant to undertake, such as nuclear reactor maintenance.


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