Mercedes starts humanoid robot pilot in manufacturing

Mercedes-Benz intends to trial humanoid robots to automate “low-skill, physically challenging, manual labor”. Austin-based robotic company Apptronik recently announced it had entered into a commercial agreement with Mercedes-Benz to pilot “highly advanced robotics” like Apollo – Apptronik’s 160-pound bipedal robot – in manufacturing.

The news follows a similar pilot announced by BMW in January. BMW is trialing its robot at its South Carolina manufacturing facility. And last year, Amazon began testing Agility’s Digit robots in select fulfillment centers.

To support highly skilled professionals

“We are exploring new possibilities with the use of robotics to support our skilled workforce in manufacturing,” explained Mercedes’ production chief, Jörg Burzer. “We want to understand the potential for robotics and automotive manufacturing to fill labor gaps in areas such as low-skill, repetitive, and physically demanding work and to free up our highly skilled team members on the production line.”

According to Apptronik, humanoid robots allow vehicle manufacturers to start automating manufacturing tasks without redesigning their existing facilities. The company’s approach instead “centers on automating some physically demanding, repetitive, and dull tasks for which it is increasingly hard to find reliable workers”.

Low-skill, repetitive, and dull tasks

“Low-skill labor” refers to the level of labor the robots will replace, involving many moving totes from point A to point B — something repetitive and physically taxing that is both essential and (relatively) easy to automate.

Newspaper The Financial Times reported that Mercedes had started trialing an undisclosed number of Apollo robots at a factory in Hungary due to labor shortages in the country.

Friendly design

Apollo’s form factor roughly matches the size of a human worker – 5 foot 8 inches tall and 160 pounds in weight, with the ability to lift 55 pounds – and it is built to operate in industrial spaces alongside people. The robot’s friendly design allows it to work alongside people while simultaneously taking on physically demanding tasks.

The robot experiments are considered a win-win for both parties. Apptronik can demonstrate clear interest from a leading automotive name, while Mercedes signals to customers and shareholders that it’s looking to the future.

Apptronik is the leader in next-generation general-purpose robots designed to change the way we live and work. Founded in 2016, the company is a University of Austin spinout best known for its work on NASA’s Valkyrie humanoid robot.


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