Building human-like robots that are both functional and practical has long been an engineering dream inspired by science fiction. While recent advancements in artificial intelligence have reignited interest and investments in humanoid robots, many of the current prototypes are still far from perfect, often looking better in staged performances than in real-life scenarios. Nevertheless, a handful of startups are persistently pushing forward.
Instead of focusing solely on the appearance of humanoids, companies like Agility Robotics emphasize creating robots that can effectively operate in human spaces. Agility’s warehouse robot, Digit, is designed to pick up tote bins and move them efficiently. In collaboration with Amazon, Digit is currently being tested for warehouse use, and production is set to ramp up in their Oregon factory.
While some argue that only true humanoids can navigate various environments, companies like Figure AI are taking a different approach. Figure aims to develop a commercial robot that can be versatile and perform multiple tasks, similar to an iPhone. With declining birth rates worldwide, the demand for such robots is expected to be significant, as they can fill the gaps in the workforce. However, Figure AI is still in the early stages of prototyping.
It’s not just startups that are venturing into humanoid robotics. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, has also expressed interest in developing a humanoid robot through the company’s robotics division. However, a previous live demonstration of the robot’s movements received mixed reviews from experts. Meanwhile, Apptronik, a neighbor of Tesla’s Austin facility, unveiled its Apollo humanoid in a recent video demonstration.
While the pursuit of human-like robots may seem like an expensive endeavor, some pioneers of legged robots believe that the journey itself is valuable for the lessons it teaches. For example, Boston Dynamics, now owned by Hyundai, initially focused on building a humanoid that could handle boxes but ended up developing a non-humanoid robot with improved capabilities.
Startups working on human-like machines often prioritize improving robotic dexterity before tackling locomotion. Sanctuary AI, based in British Columbia, Canada, aims to create robots that can perceive and manipulate the physical world, primarily through hand manipulation. Their latest robot, Phoenix, can stock shelves, unload vehicles, and operate checkouts.
The future of human-like robots lies not only in their appearance and mobility but also in their ability to understand and interact with the world like humans do. Achieving artificial general intelligence, where these robots can comprehend speech and convert it into action across various job roles, is a long-term goal shared by many. For now, the focus remains on developing robots that can meet specific needs in industries like warehousing and retail.
Q: Why are companies investing in humanoid robots?
A: Companies are investing in humanoid robots because they have the potential to perform tasks traditionally done by humans, filling labor gaps in various industries.
Q: What is the main challenge in creating humanoid robots?
A: One of the main challenges in creating humanoid robots is developing their ability to understand and interact with the physical world, particularly through dexterous hand manipulation.
Q: Are human-like appearances necessary for robots to be effective?
A: Some argue that true human-like appearances are essential for robots to navigate human environments effectively, while others prioritize functionality over appearance.
Q: What is the long-term goal for humanoid robots?
A: The long-term goal for humanoid robots is to achieve artificial general intelligence, where they can comprehend speech and perform a wide range of tasks across different job roles.