Mercedes-Benz hires humanoid robots to help workers on the plant floor 

Mercedes-Benz hires humanoid robots to help workers on the plant floor 

March 22, 2024
Possible uses for the robot include bringing parts to production line workers, inspecting components, and delivering totes of kitted parts later in the manufacturing process.

I’m very close with my coworkers. I’ve known most of them for more than 10 years, and we’ve weathered countless personal and professional storms side by side. Knowing them has made me a better, more compassionate person. And yet, I can’t help but wonder how my job would change if my coworkers were robots. Sure, I would miss the stories, the laughter, the empathy, and the comradery, but can that compare to the cold, efficient, precise nature of a robot? Manufacturing workers at Mercedes-Benz might soon find out. 

In August 2023, Apptronik, a robotics company specializing in general-purpose models, introduced Apollo, a humanoid robot that was built specifically to disrupt the industrial workforce. Engineered to be able to work seamlessly alongside humans, the unique robot was designed for mass manufacturability, performance, and safety. According to Apptronik, Apollo is the culmination of nearly 10 years of work and offers force control architecture that maintains safe operation around people. Unlike other robots on the market, Apollo was designed to be approachable and put human coworkers at ease. The robot is approximately the same size and weight as a human (5 foot 8 inches tall and 160 pounds) and features digital panels on its face and chest to make communication easier. 

Jeff Cardenas, co-founder and CEO of Apptronik, explained Apollo’s potential impact on workforce issues in a recent statement. “As labor challenges and employment trends continue to impact our economy, we need to fundamentally change the way we think about work, particularly in the warehouse and the supply chain. People don’t want to do robotic, physically demanding work in tough conditions, and they shouldn’t have to. Humanoid robots are not just an answer to this challenge, they are a necessity – and because of our deep robotics lineage, Apollo is uniquely positioned to quite literally step in and make an impact.” 

Another key feature of the Apollo robot is its practicality. The model is cost efficient, boasting an unmatched performance per cost ratio; energy efficient, running on swappable batteries that each have a four-hour runtime; and mass manufacturable since it doesn’t have single-sourced core components. Perhaps it's these pragmatic features that attracted Mercedes-Benz to Apollo.  

In an article for TechCrunch, author Brian Heater takes an optimistic view of the partnership. “These deals are regarded as a win-win for both parties. Apptronik can demonstrate clear interest from a leading automotive name, while Mercedes signals to customers and shareholders alike that it’s looking to the future. What comes next is what really matters. Should the pilot go well, causing the carmaker to put in a big order, that would be a massive feather in Apptronik’s cap — and the industry at large.” 

Mike Oitzman covered the partnership in a recent article for The Robot Report. “The robotics market is at a unique point in time where all of the enabling technologies that make a humanoid viable are coming together. This includes the huge leaps in AI maturity and model training over the last two years, the power of edge compute, battery capacity, and the maturation of legged motion algorithms. But there are at least two big looming questions: “What can humanoids reliably do?” and “Does it make sense for robots to be on legs versus wheels?” A key milestone for these humanoid manufacturers is to pass these early tests and secure reference customers that validate the robot’s functionality and help guide the product roadmap.” 

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