The Wall Street Journal cites “people familiar with the matter” who say Foxconn, Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) largest supplier, has been discussing automating its assembly line using Google Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) robotics division.
Android Co-Founder Andy Rubin left the mobile operating system in December to manage Google’s robotics division. Rubin has reportedly met with Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou in Tapei to discuss robot technologies. Gou was reportedly “excited” by the automation technologies that Rubin was able to show off.
Rubin began his career as a robotics engineer before going on to found Android, Inc. He came to Google when the Mountain View, Calif.-based company acquired the mobile operating system in 2005.
Rubin also asked Gou to help use Foxconn’s mechanical engineering integrate a technology company that Google is acquiring. Foxconn, which is also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, Co., has the manufacturing scale and know-how that Google lacks.
Google acquired eight different robotics companies last year. One of those firms was Boston Dynamics, which often works with the Department of Defense on projects like the Cheetah, the world’s fastest-moving robot, and Atlas, a humanoid robot capable of navigating tough terrain and operating tools made for humans.
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When the New York Times broke the news about Google’s robots with an interview with Rubin, it said that a new robotics group will target manufacturing. Foxconn employs humans to operate a number of manual tasks in an assembly line that might be automated.
Foxconn is trying to increase automation at its factories in China, where it has more than a million employees, as rising labor costs are impacting its profit margins. Foxconn is the largest contract manufacturer of electronics in the world, but partners like Apple and others have begun utilizing its competitors -- for instance, the WSJ points out, Pegatron Corp. now manufactures the iPhone 5c and iPad Mini.
Foxconn is looking into high-margin offerings like those in automobile and medical equipment, and has met with engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and considered investing in Pennsylvania research facilities, according to the report.
Follow Reporter Thomas Halleck on Twitter @tommylikey