ABB has developed a prototype robot intended specifically for building consumer electronics products such as smartphones, which it says can work alongside humans and adapt easily to different production needs. Called FRIDA, it has two arms, each with seven joints, and is being tested now at factories. The robot is portable, making it easy to remove from the assembly line and replace with a human when a production order changes.
Getting manufacturers to buy the robots will be a challenge if it's more economical to outsource manufacturing to countries like China. But that could change if cheap labor becomes more scarce, robots get more affordable, and scrutiny of labor conditions intensifies.
"It's not about finding a solution that can replace humans," Hedelind said. "It's about finding the balance. That's going to be the major issue."