Foxconn’s army of robots will only ‘support’ humans… for now

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Yesterday, we reported that Foxconn CEO Terry Gou had promised shareholders that the Chinese iPhone manufacturer was ready to deploy an army of 10,000 robots to help build the iPhone 6.

But while that report seems accurate, don’t expect these so-called Foxbots to completely replace humans on the assembly line. As it turns out, the iPhone 6 is going to require way too much finesse to assemble for a mere robot to do it all.

According to a new Chinese report, the new Foxbots will only play a supporting role in the manufacturing of the iPhone 6.

The issue is one of dexterity. Apple’s lightest and thinnest handset yet, the iPhone 6 is a very delicate piece of machinery that must be gingerly assembled by human hands, not the steel-crushing clamps of a robot.

It makes sense. The iPhone 5, for example, was inspired heavily by Swiss watchmaking, which has always been a trade that defies being fully mechanized. Like in the manufacturing of the iPhone, there are too many delicate parts for a machine to reliably do it by hand.

Instead, Foxconn will allegedly use its new Foxbots for tasks that don’t require much finesse, like tightening screws and placing components in place for polishing, while humans will still be in control of things like quality control or assembling internal hardware components.

So take heart. When the iPhone 6 comes around, it’ll be built the same way all the iPhones before it were built. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on how much you believe Apple that they’ve turned human rights abuses at Foxconn around.

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About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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