Mercedes explores use of humanoid robots on factory floor

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Mercedes-Benz will take a leaf out of Tesla’s book and explore the potential use of humanoid robots on the factory floor.

But rather than develop its own robots, à la Tesla’s Optimus (nee Tesla Bot), Mercedes will partner with U.S. robot technology startup Apptronik. BMW in January signed a similar agreement with rival robot technology startup Figure to explore the use of Figure’s 01 robot at BMW’s sprawling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Apptronik, based in Austin, Texas, is developing a robot known as Apollo, which is designed to handle repetitive tasks that don’t require much skill. According to Jörg Burzer, Mercedes’ head of production, there is a labor gap in areas such as low skill, repetitive, and physically demanding work.

Apptronik and Mercedes are still working to identify specific applications for the Apollo, but possibilities mentioned in last week’s announcement include robots bringing parts from storage to human line workers. The parts are typically transported in containers known as totes, and the robots could simultaneously inspect the components in the totes as they are being transported.

Because the robots are designed to work in the same spaces designed for humans, expensive redesigns of factory floors aren’t required for companies looking to introduce some automation. The Apollo robots stand roughly five feet, eight inches tall and weigh 160 pounds. They can lift up to 55 pounds, according to Apptronik. They also feature artificial intelligence that enables them to be trained for specific tasks.

A timeline for the deployment of Apollo robots in Mercedes’ plants hasn’t been revealed.

Tesla also hasn’t said when it plans to deploy its own Optimus robot, though the company late last year showed a second-generation prototype it claimed was faster and more capable than the original design unveiled in 2021.

Honda was a pioneer among automakers in the field of humanoid robots with its ASIMO series of robots, the first of which was unveiled in 2000. More recently Hyundai Motor Group has been investing heavily in the space, including acquiring robotics company Boston Dynamics.

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