Eight years ago, Apple executives including CEO Tim Cook attended a meeting in China where they watched a video of an experimental manufacturing line for the iPad operated by robots rather than humans. Cook and the other Apple executives watched as iPad parts traveled along conveyor belts and were cut, chemically treated, polished and partially assembled with the help of robotic arms known as Foxbots, according to a person who attended the meeting.
The line was developed by Foxconn Technology, Apple’s largest outside manufacturer, and the demonstration was led by Foxconn chairman Terry Gou. After playing the video, Gou told Apple executives the line needed very few humans to operate. He cautioned there was a political risk to building a fully automated production line, as the Chinese government would ask why Foxconn wasn’t hiring more people. Still, the company was confident about the future of this technology: Gou at the time expected Foxconn would be using 1 million robots in its factories by 2014.