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Can Google’s Robots Build a New Future for US Manufacturing?

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google and Foxconn have been working together to develop new robotic manufacturing technologies.  Experts say the partnership could have major implications for both the tech industry and the American economy, though the nature of those implications remains unclear — and an issue of intense debate.

Experts say robotic manufacturing could spur economic growth, but effects on US employment remain unclear.  During a dinner with Silicon Valley executives in 2011, President Barack Obama famously asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs what he needed to do to bring iPhone manufacturing back to the US. Jobs replied: “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”   Other experts proclaim that 60% of manufacturing jobs will disappear due to automation during the next twenty years.

The decline of American manufacturing is impossible to ignore; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy lost 6 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2009 alone. But rising wages in China and increased transportation costs have spurred some companies to move manufacturing back to the US. Bolstering the country’s robotics industry, some say, would give the US a competitive advantage, particularly in the manufacturing of valuable high-end products like electronics and cars.

Companies like Apple and Amazon have already invested heavily in automated manufacturing, but experts say Google’s involvement could mark an inflection point in the robotics industry.  Thus far, most manufacturing robots have been produced for very specialized purposes, and with little interoperability.  Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, says that Google may do for robotics what it did for mobile software, creating a more interoperable platform that could be applied across various industries and at lower costs. Andy Rubin, the man behind Google’s Android operating system, has now moved to head up Google’s robotics efforts, and has reportedly been discussing new automated technologies with Foxconn  Chairman Terry Gou.

Considering their recent robot-based initiatives, it’s no surprise that Google and Foxconn would choose to collaborate. Google has spent the last several months acquiring various robotics companies, while Foxconn began deploying robots en masse at its factories in 2012.  Last year, the Taiwan-based company announced plans to invest $40 million in a robot manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, with Gou saying that Foxconn wants to be part of the manufacturing “renaissance” in the US.

Source: The Verge  

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