The New York Times has a fascinating story today about how robot factories are close to replacing hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers in the world’s electronics factories. The opening example says that 128 robot arms working with “yoga-like” flexibility at a Philips Electronics factory in Drachten, The Netherlands, can do the same work as hundreds of workers in China assembling electric shavers.
The implications of this revolution in industrial robotics are both economically significant and frightening. The robots can bring factories back to the countries that lost all of their low-wage jobs to countries such as China, which employs something like 700,000 people working on Apple products alone. Some countries would love to get those jobs back. But the frightening part is that the robot factory in Holland can get by on a few dozen workers. If robots can do the work of millions of workers, those jobs might evaporate altogether.
“This is the future,” the story says. “A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution.”
Foxconn, the contract manufacturer that makes Apple’s iPhones and other products, says it plans to install more than a million robots in the next few years to supplement its work force in China. But it isn’t clear how many workers the robots will eliminate.
[Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson, Flickr]