Google has shown its interest in robotics for nearly a year, but in December a series of acquisitions and announcements made it clear that robots would play a major role in the company's future. While the Chinese tech manufacturer Foxconn has historically been known as one of Apple's key partners, it is now working on a robotics project with Google, according to a news report.
While the partnership will likely work both ways, Foxconn has reportedly been looking to increase productivity in its factories with the help of robots. Sources close to the two companies told The Wall Street Journal that Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou met recently with Google executive Andy Rubin in Taipei to discuss new robotics technologies. Since Google is already working on industrial robots, Foxconn has turned to the tech company for help boost its manufacturing capabilities.
The need for industrial automation in China has grown exponentially in recent years. Despite the country's reputation for low wages, progress in China has led to a steady increase in pay requirements for factory workers, meaning that machines are becoming a better option for Foxconn, one of the largest tech manufacturers in the world.
Exports from China have continued to grow despite the year-over-year wage increases, but some technology companies have already begun to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. now that the difference in cost is less substantial. While it does seem plausible that more companies will return factories to North America, a growth in robotics in Asia may still allow countries like China to control the industry.
Robots have already been used in some industries for years. In the automotive sector, automation is present in every factory tasked with the building of cars. Other sectors, namely those dealing with electronics, are now beginning to see automation as a great tool as well.
We asked Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, if automation would begin to dominate the technology manufacturing industry as well. He told us that automation is an important resource, and since robots allows for cheaper and faster production, they will become necessary in the technology industry.
"As has been demonstrated in other sectors like automotive manufacturing, automated robotics technologies can be terrific resources in areas requiring highly exacting and repetitious assembly work," King said. "That should help improve both the quality of products and the speed of their manufacture -- both critical points in an electronics industry."
The robotics partnership reported between Foxconn and Google is one of the first to arise in the technology industry, but it may spark a trend.
"If The Google-Foxconn effort works, I expect we'll see similar efforts by other electronics manufacturers, especially those in Taiwan, China, Korea, etc. that have the capital necessary to bring industrial robots online." King said.
Manual assembly is still very important in the tech industry, especially when companies are dealing with delicate products like computer chips. However, as time goes on and companies like Google develop new automation technologies, the industry will continue to change.