In what we would characterize as a significant development, a posting on the Wall Street Journal Digits Technology blog quotes informed sources as indicating that global-wide contract manufacturer Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, has been quietly working with Andy Rubin of Google on developing advanced robotics that can be deployed within Foxconn factories. The posting further indicates that Foxconn has dispatch engineers to the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to learn the latest in manufacturing automation technology.
Google has acquired eight robotics companies in the last year and has established a robotics development group. The WSJ posting makes note of the recent acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a company that has designed mobile research robots for the U.S. Defense Department. Speculation is that Google’s interests are in building a new robotics operating system for manufacturers, similar to its Android mobile operating system.
What makes this revelation more interesting is that Foxconn is the major contract manufacturing services provider to Apple and other high tech and consumer electronics providers. In essence, Google may be assisting these OEM’s in assuring a considerable manufacturing presence in China and other lower-cost manufacturing regions.
A number of major players are vying for control of the next iteration of automation and/or operating systems associated with the “Internet of Things”. In addition to Google, Amazon, General Electric, Siemens, Qualcomm and others are investing large amounts to be on the forefront of the next iteration technologies that leverage combinations of robotics, additive manufacturing and predictive analytics techniques.
Supply Chain Matters has previously brought attention to Foxconn’s aggressive goals to automate its factories with a million robots to counter increasing direct labor costs in China. This revelation comes after other announcements that Foxconn had established a joint engineering development effort with Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S.
This revelation comes in the throes of a recent revelation that Google’s Chairmen Eric Schmidt was the recent recipient of a $100 million compensation package, and the release of a former Yahoo senior executive with an exit package in excess of $100 million. There have been public protests in the San Francisco area concerning the growing wealth disparity among Silicon Valley companies, which gets continually reinforced by these revelations.
One can trust that Google will share intellect and collaborate with other manufacturers located across global regions including the Eurozone, North America and other regions. It would indeed be unfortunate that a future headline declares that other manufacturing regions are placed within a strategic competitive disadvantage because of the actions of a Silicon Valley giant with a singular goal.