Apple’s main manufacturing partner, Foxconn, is planning to eliminate human workers from its Chinese factories in three phases —something already complete at some locations, a manager with Foxconn’s Automation Technology Development Committee revealed on Friday.
The largest union representing grocery-store workers has come out strongly against Amazon.com’s launch of a store sans cashiers, a sign of how a recent generation of futuristic technology comes with a dose of angst for big parts of the workforce.
When workers cost $20/hour ($15 minimum wage + $4 to $5 for benefits), while technology costs are falling, numerous businesses are moving from variable cost labor to fixed cost automation.
The feature photo I attached to this post is a photo of a self order kiosk I took inside a McDonald’s in St. George, Utah. Starbucks has a mobile app that let’s customers place their own order ahead of time. Another coffee shop I visit has, at times, flipped their order entry app (its just an iPod on a stand) around and let customers place their own orders and pay with a credit card, when they are short staffed.
The market (meaning the public) will determine if this is what people want or not.
Robotics systems are thus becoming an economically viable alternative to human labor in more and more industries. A human welder today earns around $25 per hour (including benefits), while the equivalent operating cost per hour for a robot is around $8 when installation, maintenance, and the operating costs of all hardware, software, and peripherals are amortized over a five-year depreciation period. In 15 years, that gap will widen even more dramatically. The operating cost per hour for a robot doing similar welding tasks could plunge to as little as $2 when improvements in its performance are factored in.
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