The press is alive with news that we're all going to lose our jobs within the coming years and whether this will bring about a Utopian world of leisure or a dystopian Soma induced lethargy. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle as new jobs are created to maintain, service and program those robots. But is this excitement about a robotic workforce a little premature?
It seems that Mercedes Benz, the German car manufacturer, has had a change of hear when it comes to replacing its human workforce. Renowned for their efficiency, German manufacturing is highly reliant upon the most technologically advanced robots and the most-skilled workers but it seems that for the Mercedes S-Class sedan, with its optional extras of carbon-fiber trim, heated and cooled cup holders and four types of caps for the tire valves, robots aren't up to muster.
The problem is that humans are far better than robots at quickly selecting and installing the correct part based on on-screen instructions than robots are. As Markus Schaefer, head of production at the Sindelfingen plant said, "Robots can't deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today".
Robots are essential for the manufacturing of cars, lifting the tons of steel into place would be impossible time consuming and expensive without them. However, buyers are demanding an even greater level of customization than even before, and if traditional manufacturers like Mercedes are going to maintain a competitive advantage over innovative startups like Tesla they'll need to look at new ways to add value beyond relying purely on the brand name. One way of doing this is to add en even greater choice of customization. No longer are we content to cho
ose from list A, B, or C, we want some parts of A, a bit of B and an item in C and manufactures have to keep up.
Although it seems as though robotic technology just isn't up to the task yet, with advances in artifical intelligence it may not be too long before robots are able to make decisions based on a quickly changing criteria and human workers may not be save from ever encroaching mechanization after all.