Mercedes-Benz is pulling some robots off the production line at its biggest plant and replacing them with … humans. The reason? Mercedes offers so many options for its vehicles (such as four types of caps for the tire valves in the case of its S-Class sedan), it's "too much ... for the machines," the company's head of production tells Bloomberg. “Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization," Markus Schaefer continues. "We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people." The Sindelfingen, Germany, factory produces 400,000 cars annually, and while humans can make changes to a production line in a weekend, reprogramming robots tacks on weeks, which doesn't jibe with Schaefer's push to halve the time it takes to make a car from the 61 hours it took in 2005.
As far as specifics of this change go, Bloomberg points to the car maker's new E-Class, which is available beginning next month. The car's speed and navigation instructions are projected onto the windshield, and the task of aligning the display will shift in some cases from two permanent robots to a worker. Gizmodo points out that Mercedes' move does not herald the reversal of the trend that half of jobs will be automated in coming decades. (Indeed, the International Federation of Robotics reports that "by 2018, around 1.3 million industrial robots will be entering service in factories around the world.") "But it’s also a timely reminder that as good as robots get, they’ve got a long way to go to beat the human machine."