Tesla has been busy building the Model 3, and it’s using a lot of humans to get the job done. While CEO Elon Musk once referred to the Gigafactory as the “machine that builds machines,” he’s since scaled back on his vision of a highly-automated factory to build more people into the equation. A new video released Sunday shows how this redesigned automation line works in practice.
The video shows a broad team of people placing components in a Model 3 as it moves through an assembly line, with a broad smile and a hand wave at the start of the video, moving through as robot arms pitch in alongside human counterparts. The result is almost a symphony of movement, with man and machine working effectively together — at some points, a robot arms carries a chair with a person in and out of the car to place specific parts. It ends with the car rolling out with a human driver, complete with “Factory Mode” scrawled across the newly-installed touchscreen.
Before the Model 3 entered production in July 2017, Musk proclaimed that he wanted to build an “alien dreadnought” with high levels of automation. Unfortunately, Tesla’s overreliance on automation meant it missed its production targets, and a now-removed video from Musk in October 2017 showed the cars moving through at one tenth the necessary speed. Tesla produced 2,425 cars in the fourth quarter of 2017, half its projected weekly target for December 2017. Tesla finally reached its goal at the end of June.
Musk is not the only person in the automotive industry that had to scale back their grand dreams about autonomy. General Motors also spent billions on a rapid shift to automation in the 1980s. In Paul Ingrassia and Joseph White’s book “Comeback,” the pair describe how “spray-painting robots…spraying each other instead of the cars…when a massive computer-controlled ‘robogate’ welding machine smashed a car body, or a welding machine stopped dead, the entire Hamtramck line would stop.”
Tesla is unlikely to repeat these mistakes when production starts on the Tesla Model Y, the entry-level sports utility vehicle set for an unveiling in March 2019.
Related video: Watch the Tesla Model 3 Dash Through a Snowy New Zealand Racetrack