Thu. Nov 30th, 2023
    Are Humanoids the Future of Robotics?

    The concept of building humanlike robots has captivated the imagination of engineers and scientists for decades, fueled by the influence of science fiction. However, despite the recent surge in artificial intelligence and investment, most current prototypes of humanoids remain impractical and clumsy, serving more as entertainment pieces than practical companions in the real world. Nonetheless, several startups are determined to push forward with their pursuit of functional humanoids.

    One such company is Agility Robotics, whose co-founder and chief robot officer, Jonathan Hurst, emphasizes that their goal is not to create robots that merely resemble humans, but rather to develop robots that can navigate and operate effectively in human spaces. Agility’s warehouse robot, Digit, is a prime example. It may not have a fully humanoid appearance, but its ability to pick up and move tote bins has caught the attention of e-commerce giant Amazon, which plans to test Digit in its warehouses. Agility Robotics has even opened a factory in Oregon to mass-produce these robots.

    On the other hand, Figure AI takes a more purist approach, firmly believing that only true humanoids can successfully navigate various environments. Figure AI aims to start with simple applications, such as retail warehouse tasks, but envisions a future where their humanoid robots can adapt and perform multiple tasks. With declining birth rates and a shortage of human workers, Figure AI sees a massive market potential for their robots to fill the gaps.

    While these endeavors may seem futile and extravagant to some, they serve as important learning experiences for the field of robotics. For companies like Boston Dynamics, known for their agile and dog-like Spot robots, the journey of developing humanoids has led to valuable breakthroughs in technology and understanding human-robot interactions. Sometimes, deviating from the initial goal of creating a humanoid can result in the development of useful non-humanoid robots with improved capabilities.

    While the ability to walk is often seen as the greatest challenge in humanoid robotics, some startups have focused on enhancing robotic dexterity and manipulation skills before tackling locomotion. Sanctuary AI, for instance, has developed a bipedal robot named Phoenix that can perform tasks such as stocking shelves, unloading delivery vehicles, and operating a checkout. Sanctuary AI envisions these robots evolving into intelligent systems capable of understanding the physical world and fulfilling a wide range of job roles.

    In conclusion, the pursuit of humanlike robots is not solely driven by a desire for imitation but rather to create practical and versatile machines that can coexist with humans effectively. Whether it’s through the development of non-humanoid robots or a focus on dexterity and perception, the exploration of humanoids has contributed significant advancements to the field of robotics, bringing us closer to a future where robotic labor can assist society in a multitude of ways.


    Q: Are humanoids currently being used in real-life applications?

    A: While there have been prototypes and tests in various industries, humanoids are not yet widely used in practical applications. Companies like Agility Robotics and Figure AI are exploring their potential, but practical adoption is still limited.

    Q: Why are humanoids being developed if they are clumsy and impractical?

    A: Despite their current limitations, the development of humanoids serves as a valuable learning experience for robotics. Through the process, researchers and engineers gain insights into technologies such as mobility, dexterity, perception, and intelligence that can be applied to other types of robots.

    Q: Can humanoids replace human workers?

    A: The goal of companies like Figure AI is to develop humanoids that can take on tasks that are in short supply of human workers. However, complete replacement of human workers is unlikely, as humanoids are currently limited in their capabilities and have certain technical and ethical considerations.

    Q: Are there any challenges in developing humanoids?

    A: Developing humanoids presents numerous challenges, including achieving natural human-like movements, integrating advanced perception and intelligence systems, ensuring safe interactions with humans, and addressing ethical concerns related to their use and impact on society.