Apple has unveiled a new robot, three years in the making and until now top secret. It does not make dinner, give directions, read minds or contemplate its existence. With 29 robotic arms the so-called Liam prises apart iPhones in 11 seconds, fragmenting and sorting the gadget’s precious components for reuse.
The process, artistically demonstrated here, rescues aluminium, nickel, copper, cobalt and the conflict mineral tungsten with a reported 97% success rate. Currently only iPhone 6S models are being dismantled but Apple hopes to deconstruct other devices in the future as well.
The global e-waste industry as it exists today is a shady one at best, disproportionately burdening less economically developed nations with severe public health costs and long term environmental pollution. Thankfully consumers are becoming more empowered to make informed decisions about what they buy, giving rise to innovative ethical producers like FairPhone.
With Liam, Apple has demonstrated its desire to mitigate the negative impact of its products and drastically reimagine how they are traded post-use, dismantled and disposed of. How successful the robot will be remains to be seen; some concerns have already been raised over it’s capacity to unpick the sheer volume of iThings, as well as whether this proof-of-concept can be scaled up.
Liam’s greatest trait may not be its many dynamic limbs, but its ability to disrupt the e-waste economy and reframe recycling as the responsibility of manufacturers. Apple is a market leader in consumer electronics and this innovation could set the new industry standard for post-production practice.
If this move inspires the ICT gadget sector to channel its ingenuity to recycle as creatively as it produces – that’s exciting. Could Liam’s arms reach into other sectors too? If so, Post-Fordism may be varnished with a new dimension: mass disassembly.
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